Employee Recognition 2024

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employee of the year

Kathleen Rodriguez

Intensive Behavior Interventions Assistant | Central Middle School

Kathleen Rodriguez began her career with Riverside Unified School District in 2009, and has actively served as an Intensive Behavior Interventions Assistant both in an itinerant capacity (serving multiple school sites during a school year) and, for the last 1.5 years, exclusively at Central Middle School. In this role, she supports student learning by successfully reinforcing topics and/or targets of focus throughout the day by means of naturalistic learning opportunities for all student levels, whether it be through discussion, device modeling, and/or social role playing.

In speaking about Mrs. Rodriguez, the following has been said by her site administrator: “Mrs. Rodriguez has the unique ability to work closely with others to motivate them, and to earn their respect. She has poise and competence as well as a deep commitment to children and their education…she offers her students a purposeful, exciting place to learn.”

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Melody Hopewell

Intensive Behavior Interventions Supervisor

Melody Hopwell was hired by Riverside Unified School District (“RUSD”) as an Intensive Behavior Interventions Supervisor in September 2018, after serving in a consultancy role for ten (10) years while working for Autism Behavior Consultants. Ms. Hopwell has extensive experience conducting behavior assessments, implementing and modeling behavior change procedures, developing data collecting systems, and visually representing the student behavior data to IEP teams. Her commitment to fostering independence and self-advocacy in students with autism reflects not only her professional dedication but also her genuine concern for the well-being and access of those she serves.

Outside of her work with RUSD, Ms. Hopewell is Vice President of Ticktockers (Riverside Chapter of the National Charity League). Additionally, she serves as an adjunct professor at La Sierra University, where she imparts her knowledge to aspiring educators, thereby significantly influencing the field with her valuable insights and experiences.

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Sandra Perry

Executive Assistant II

Sandra “Sandy” Perry has been an employee with Riverside Unified School District (“RUSD”) for the past eighteen (18) years as a School Office Assistant (2006-2007), Elementary school Principal’s Secretary (2007-2014), Administrative Secretary II (2014-2015), and the Executive Assistant II for the Division of Instructional Services K-12 (2015 to present). In her current role, Mrs. Perry’s most powerful trait lies within her relationships. She strives to serve those around her by continually putting the needs of others before her own to ensure each person with whom she interacts has a positive experience. Her grace, humility, and dedication to the entire RUSD community is apparent in each phone call, meeting, and event hosted by our district.

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Steven Dunlap

Director V, Innovation & Technology

Steven Dunlap began his teaching career with Riverside Unified School District (“RUSD”) as a fourth grade teacher at Highland Elementary School in 2005. In 2010, he moved to Frank Augustus Miller Middle School as a social studies teacher before promoting to his first administrator role as an Instructional Service Specialist where he provided training and staff development in the areas of mathematics, history, and the Common Core State Standards for all elementary schools. In 2014, Mr. Dunlap began stepping into the directorship roles–Director of Innovation & Learner Engagement and Director of Innovation & Technology. In these roles, he has cultivated a learning culture that inspires equity by prioritizing the integration of technology to bridge the digital divide. Through initiatives such as digital citizenship and literacy, computer science and computational thinking, and digital storytelling, he has worked to equip students with the skills necessary for success.

Mr. Dunlap has had numerous recognitions and leadership roles throughout his career, including Vice President of Legislative Action for the Riverside Association of School Managers (RASM), Inland CUE Technology Administrator of the Year, Digital Innovation and Learner Award - Administrator of the Year, SmartRiverside Code 2 Career Subcommittee member, and many more.

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Keenan Curtis

Highgrove Elementary

As an educator, Keenan's lessons are engaging and filled with positive energy. He inspires his students, builds strong rapport with all. He is a mentor to all students, not just the ones in his class. In his philosophy of teaching, he adds "my decision to become a teacher came in the form of witnessing the struggles of friends who did not succeed later in life due to a lack of emphasis on schooling. I recognized that education plays a crucial role in shaping a young person's life and wanted to be instrumental in providing students with a "fighting chance" for a brighter future. This realization fueled my passion for teaching".

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Amanda Zonker

Riverside STEM Academy

Amanda's exceptional commitment to leading and serving students goes far beyond her classroom responsibilities, setting her apart. She has developed innovative extensions within STEM education that exceed the standard curriculum requirements. Students thrive under her guidance, benefiting from the warm and inclusive environment she cultivates. Her encouragement of risk-taking among students is evident in their performance outcomes. Amanda is dedicated to enriching experiences in both ELA and History. An exemplary instance of her dedication occurred on Friday, March 1, coinciding with the day of the Teacher of the Year (TOY) interview, when she orchestrated a collaboration between STEM students and those from Tohoku University (Japan), fostering cultural exchange experiences.

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Magdalena Zepeda-SeLegue

Lincoln High School

Magdalena "Maggie" embodies compassion, articulateness, and consistently upholds the utmost professionalism. She fosters relationships built on trust, respect, and perseverance. Students flourish under her guidance and mentorship, acquiring the self-confidence necessary to envision success in their life endeavors. Her impact at Lincoln spans both within the school and throughout the community. A prominent illustration of her influence is the establishment of the ENLACE CLUB, a student-led endeavor dedicated to organizing multicultural events, honoring diverse heritages, and offering educational avenues for families.

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Steven Ybarra

Arlington High School

Steven Ybarra began his professional journey with Riverside Unified School District in 1996 as a teacher at Sierra Middle School. After spending 5 years in the classroom in RUSD, Mr. Ybarra left for 3 years to teach in Fontana Unified School District. Upon his return to RUSD in 2004, Mr. Ybarra was tapped to become an administrator and served as the assistant principal at Martin Luther King Jr. High School and Ramona High School. Immediately following his time at King, Mr. Ybarra took the helm as principal of Sierra Middle School (August 2012) and spent 4 years there before he embarked on his current assignment as principal of Arlington High School in 2016. At Arlington, Mr. Ybarra has demonstrated skills as an instructional leader and a caring principal. Under his leadership, Arlington offers five (5) robust career pathways offering students real-life opportunities from teachers with industry experience in digital media, cybersecurity, health sciences, biomedical services and game design.

Mr. Ybarra has been the recipient of many honors and awards, including the A. Philip Randolph Award from the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and being the recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Next Generation Systems Initiative Grant which pioneered improved practices in schools throughout Riverside Unified School District.

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Shelton Yuen

School Psychologist

Shelton Yuen, who has a background in Applied Behavior Analysis and crisis intervention, has been a Student Assistance Program (“SAP”) Psychologist in Riverside Unified School District (“RUSD”) since the 2016-2017 school year. Prior to joining RUSD, he worked in Jurupa Unified School District as an ERMHS Psychologist (2013-2016), Rowland Unified School District (2009-2011), Canyon Acres Children and Family Services (2008), and Center for Autism and Related Disorders (2005-2008).

In his current role, Shelton works closely with the SAP Prevention Assistants and site staff to provide positive behavior support for students throughout RUSD through observations, development of behavior intervention plans, and facilitating Prevention Assistant support. Through his work, he aims to help students build the skills and motivation necessary to succeed in their environments.

Outside of his work for RUSD, Shelton currently volunteers in different ministries for his church and has served as a governing board member of Riverside Christian Alliance Church for 12 non-consecutive years.

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Gabriella Zlaket

Arlington High School

Gabriella Zlaket has been a counselor for Riverside Unified School District (“RUSD”) since August 2004, proudly serving the students of Arlington High School. Prior to her work as a counselor, she was a substitute teacher with RUSD. As a counselor, Ms. Zlaket has dedicated her two-decade long career to serving students in support of their academic, college/career and socioemotional development. What sets Ms. Zlaket apart is the combination of her counseling skills paired with her multifaceted involvement in various school, district, and community groups/organizations aimed at supporting and providing enrichment opportunities for all students, in particular closing service gaps. For example, she was actively involved in the RUSD Heritage plan–an initiative to close a service gap designed to support African American students in enrolling in, and successfully completing, the 15 college entry courses required for eligibility to a California State University or University of California campus.

In addition to her RUSD recognition, Ms. Zlaket has been named a 2024 Riverside County Educator of the Year by the Riverside County Office of Education.

employee of the year