Pep rally-style enthusiasm ruled Sultana High School's Sultan Hall last Monday night at the Hesperia Unified School District's annual Retiree and Employees of the Year Celebration. Scores of supporters showed up with signs, whistles and pom-poms to cheer on HUSD staff members from 24 area schools who were retiring or being honored for their outstanding service.


HUSD Superintendent David McLaughlin said the event is one of the most anticipated of the year.


"It is such an honor to have the opportunity to honor our hardworking employees in this manner," said McLaughlin. "It's good stuff and very exciting."


According to McLaughlin, the 49 award-winning teachers, counselors, administrative personnel and custodians are chosen by their peers. He says the qualities that stand out among the recipients include a positive attitude, a willingness to work hard, a genuine concern for their students and colleagues and great passion for their work.


"We have so many employees who possess these attributes, so it's always very hard to narrow down the winners," McLaughlin said.


As attendees streamed into Sultan Hall, they were treated to pre-celebration entertainment by Hesperia High School's jazz ensemble, under the direction of Sean Portanova.


The ceremony commenced with a welcome message by assistant superintendent of education services Jovy Yankaska. It was followed by a flag salute and posting of colors by Sultana High Schools Jr. ROTC under the direction of MSgt. David Thomas. Next, the Sultana Vocal Ensemble, under the direction of Breanna Gauthier, sang the National Anthem.


McLaughlin delivered the opening remarks and encouraged the crowd to "make a lot of noise" for the award winners.


The presentation for the retiring staff members was led by Karen Kelly-Pelayes, assistant superintendent, personnel services. Nineteen were recognized with an engraved, golden apple.


"This is not just a career for these individuals, it's a calling," said Kelly-Palayes said.


As the naming of the Employee of the Year recipients got underway, Kelly-Palayes reminded the audience that their willingness to work above and beyond the call of duty was the key to them winning the award.


Each of the winners was then called to the stage and presented with a golden apple.


The ceremony concluded with a special plaque, as well as a golden apple, being awarded to five Employee of the Year district winners: Tammy Aguilera (classified, service impact), Walter Porter (classified, student impact), Mary Rivers (Elementary Teacher of the Year), Jessica Van Overbeke (Secondary Teacher of the Year) and Heather O'bier (AESC Certificated Site Support Employee of the Year).


A reception featuring cookies and punch followed the festivities.


"This event keeps growing," said Linda Canfield, executive secretary for HUSD. "I'm going to estimate we had about 400 people in attendance this year and we are anticipating that number will continue to rise a little more year after year."