Four Santa Maria Joint Union High School District team members have been recognized as 2016 Classified School Employees of the Year.

Bus driver Virginia Villa, recently retired grounds maintenance worker Richard McKinley, Delta High School career technician Jamie Ellis and ​Righetti High School instructional aide Alma Cervantez were honored and given special plaques by the SMJUHSD Board of Education during its April 12 board meeting.






Villa and McKinley also accepted the awards at the Santa Barbara County Education Board Meeting April 7. Both will now have their names forwarded to the California Department of Education for consideration at the state level.

Villa, who has 13-years of service, was selected for the transportation category. McKinley, who left the district with 32-years of service, nailed down the maintenance, operations and facilities category.

Villa’s Transportation Manager Jerry Sitton described her as “a positive leader, friendly, consistent, flexible and caring person” and credited her with taking command and rendering aid to a student who was struck in a crosswalk outside Righetti High School.

Villa’s community service includes her work at the Santa Maria Moose Lodge, where she helps with scholarships and meeting the needs of children in the community.

“She is a joy to work with and is always looking for the best way to assist her students by discussing situations with teachers and others,” Sitton said.

Villa said the award was unexpected, but “exciting” nonetheless.

Plant manager Ken Groppetti characterized McKinley’s work ethic of “no job being too big, or beneath him” as an example that others routinely and willingly embrace. 

McKinley, a SMHS alumni and Aggie, also spent countless volunteer hours throughout the years serving programs such as the FFA, athletics, horticulture, industrial arts and other nonprofit organizations.

“I was really honored to get the employee of the year award; it just made me feel good inside that they acknowledged all the years I worked at the district,” he said of the recognition. “It was great working with the Santa Maria High School Staff.” 

Groppetti praised McKinley’s dedication.

“Richard is a forward thinker and even after 32 years, he still went home with dirt on his knees,” Groppetti said. “His leadership through example will remain unmatched.”

CSEA President Tami Contreras added the team is also proud of their fellow staff members.

“This is a wonderful recognition of the classified employee unit of the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District,” she said. 

Superintendent Dr. Mark Richardson believes the pair earned the spotlight, saying, “We are so proud of Virgie and Richard. They are fantastic employees that have routinely gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

Other classified staff who received certificates and were nominated include Jennifer Abend, Krista Ballard, Mary Crowell, Heydi Elenas, Toni Fernandez, Cheryl Foster, Patty Fraire, Erik Fulton, Leticia Gamino, Jasmine Granados, Araceli Mandujano and Yolanda Medina.

Kenny Klein is the public information officer for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.