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Difference Maker Recognitions

Our Difference Makers program recognizes staff and community members who support our district's core values:

  • Students First
  • Integrity and Ethical Stewardship
  • Connected Families and Collaborative Community
  • Equity and Social Justice
  • Empathy and Respect
  • World-leading and Future Ready

Difference Makers are nominated on a quarterly basis by administrators to a selection committee comprised of representatives from classified and certificated employee groups. Difference Makers are recognized before the Board of Trustees, as they are tonight, where they receive a certificate of recognition and a Difference Maker pin. Special feature stories will be released through districtwide publications and social media following the announcements. 

This quarter, we received 23 nominations from 13 sites into the four award categories: certificated, classified, community, and group. Here are our difference makers!

Certificated Staff Member

Jose Pacheco Velasquez, Huerta Middle School Counselor, for embodying our core value of “Students First.” 

“We believe that preparing students to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing, globally connected world should inform every decision. We believe that incorporating student voice is essential to our success in understanding and meeting each student’s needs.”

School principal Dawnel Sonntag says, “Jose is committed to the well-being of our students.  In addition to meeting with every student at the beginning of the year to establish a positive relationship and identify areas for growth, he also meets individually with students who are struggling, runs a social skills group, supports students in conflict resolutions, presents classroom lessons, does home visits, and is a member of both our Instructional Leadership Team and our MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support) team.  He supports students in developing social-emotional competencies, is an advocate for equity and student agency, and approaches decisions from the lens of what's best for students. He is absolutely student-focused and an integral part of ensuring that students feel safe and connected at Huerta.”

Classified Staff Member

James Gentry, Bracher Elementary School, for embodying our core value of “Empathy and Respect”.

“We believe that empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is crucial for valuing diverse perspectives, effective collaboration, problem-solving, and leading change. We believe that everyone has value and deserves to be treated respectfully.”

Principal Wayne Leach says, “James Gentry is a Bracher SAI para educator working with our K-1 students. He brings high expectations with a gentle spirit as he works with small groups of students or one-to-one in the learning environment.   Known as Mr. James on campus, he supports staff and students wherever he sees a need. From classroom behavior or academic support to technology, if there is a need, Mr. James can be counted on to assist.  He serves the Bracher community.   

Beyond the classroom, James has been a member of our school site council and sits on our site leadership team.  He brings the perspective of a parent and classified staff to each meeting, always advocating for children.  He requests resources and makes suggestions to meet our students' different backgrounds and needs.  He is a champion for our special needs students.  Our students know Mr. James cares for them, even when they have moved up grades, and can be seen at school seeking him out to talk or hang out with him.  

James can be found out front of the school each morning welcoming students.  At the beginning of the year, he was often seen holding hands with nervous kindergarten students, walking them to breakfast, and checking in on them at recess.  He is a caring adult that kids know they can go to for support.  James Gentry is a valued member of the Bracher staff who treats everyone with respect and love.  If there is a need, seen or unseen, Mr. James will be nearby to help.”

Community Member

Mary Grizzle, Bowers Elementary School Community Member for embodying our core value of “Connected Families and Collaborative Community”.

“We believe that community action is essential to achieving our vision and having a positive impact on student outcomes, including their health and wellness. We serve as a catalyst for a call-to-action with our parents, families, and community. Through support, engagement, involvement, and collaboration, we leverage our multiple perspectives and collective genius, develop better solutions, and deepen our shared commitment to success.”

Principal Adriana Reyes says, “It takes a village to raise a child. Ms. Grizzle, a Santa Clara community member, knows this too well. This school year Mrs. Grizzle began working as a city crosswalk and, lucky for our school, Ms. Grizzle was assigned to Bowers. She has such a pleasant disposition and is very supportive of our school. She helps keep our school safe and is a wonderful role model for our student Safety Patrollers. Most recently, Ms. Grizzle organized a fundraiser in honor of her birthday. She raised over $2,000 for our school. She tapped into her many community contacts and helped raise money to fund student activities. With the generous donation, we have opened a game and art and craft room during lunch recess. We will also use some of the funds to establish conflict resolution student teams and student leadership. These endeavors will support our goal of promoting a healthy positive school climate. Playing games  allows students to learn something new; it helps their physical development, boosts their creativity, social skills, and also helps develop a positive attitude. These are all things that will help bolster our school climate and support students' social-emotional well-being. Ms. Grizzle has also reached out to offer additional support to our garden program and to assist families with Thanksgiving dinners. Ms. Grizzle is a valued member of our community. She understands the importance of community partnerships and we are grateful for her support.” 

Group or Organization

The Hughes Elementary School Office and Health Team for embodying our core value of “Excellence Through Continuous Improvement”.

“We believe that achieving high performance and full potential for both the organization and the individual comes from a relentless commitment to excellence and the courage to adapt, change, and improve based on results. We believe in fostering a growth mindset by defining failures as opportunities for learning and continuous improvement.”

Principal Joe Young says, “As we know, this school year has brought on a lot of processes and structures to deal with the effects of COVID. As our staff and students are back in person, the need for clarity, consistency, communication, and confidentiality are vital to ensure the safety of our students, staff, and families. Hughes' Office and Health Teams, comprised of Mrs. Christine Lutke, the school secretary, Ms. Maricar Wan, the attendance clerk, Ms. Julie Lee, the school nurse, and Ms. Peachy Aquino, the health assistant, truly exemplify the core value of excellence through continuous improvement. Due to constantly evolving protocols due to COVID, the office and health teams saw the need to create a structure for some sense of consistency with expectations. With the right to privacy and the importance of confidentiality, when students and staff members were absent for a variety of reasons and there was a curious and concerned response by others, the office and health teams created a system that fostered clear communication while maintaining confidentiality. Our health assistant, Ms. Peachy, along with our office team created and began using a "Cleared to return to class" pass. This slip of paper was used when students were sent to the front office or health office with medical concerns from staff members. After assessing and triaging the student, the "Cleared to return to class" pass was a simple and effective way to communicate with the staff member that the student is safe. Along with talks about the professional trust in our colleagues and the need for confidentiality, our staff has appreciated the clarity of communication that students are safe to return to class. This is especially true for students who have been absent for a few days and the resulting questions and curiosity about those absences.

Another example of the core value, Excellence Through Continuous Improvement, is Hughes' Office and Health Teams have scheduled daily meetings to check in about the absences on campus, the communication with families about those absences, and the "next steps" for their record-keeping and communication with staff members. These daily meetings have had a significantly positive effect on tracking student attendance and the home-school connection.

As we all continue to encounter and experience constant change during this pandemic, Hughes' Office and Health Teams definitely exemplify excellence through continuous improvement with their open mindset, courage to adapt, and commitment to improve based on results and needs.”