Governor Sisolak Nominates Two School Employees For National Recognition

November 05, 2020

CARSON CITY Nev. – Governor Steve Sisolak today announced his selection of two nominees to represent Nevada in the national selection process for the Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award. Each state was invited to nominate up to two outstanding employees for selection of a national honoree by the U.S. Department of Education.

The RISE Award recognizes and promotes the commitment of excellence exhibited by classified school employees who provide exemplary service to students in pre-kindergarten through high school. Mr. Victor Garcia-Mendez and Ms. Kim Ruiz were chosen by the Governor to represent Nevada based on their unwavering dedication to Nevada’s students and school communities.

  • Mr. Victor Garcia-Mendez was nominated by Ms. Christina Bourne and is an outstanding member of the Mark Twain Elementary School community in Carson City and is currently one of four English Language Learning paraprofessionals. He has a long list of accomplishments, including creating the iCan Initiative that focuses on supporting the parents and guardians of students learning English. Mr. Garcia-Mendez helps parents understand how to help their child succeed in school as well as supports them in becoming an integral part of the school community through connections with other stakeholders and resources. Mark Twain Elementary Principal Ruthlee Caloiaro said, “He is a light and a hope for those in the Latino community and spreads a message that education can be a ticket out of poverty.”

  • Ms. Kim Ruiz is an instructional aide who is credited with providing “over-the-top” support to the Comprehensive Life Skills program at Winnemucca Junior High School in Humboldt County School District. Because of her work modifying curricula, differently abled students – including those who are non-verbal and paraplegic – are able to fully participate in STEM courses including Design and Modeling, Medical Detectives, and Flight and Space classes. In their nomination, colleagues Ms. Kristin Page and Ms. Laura Molini said, “The initiative she takes, the care and thoughtfulness to say the least, never ceases to amaze and occurs on a daily basis. She has an incredible reputation for being a consummate professional, being dependable, and having a deep respect for her students.”
“I am pleased to recognize Mr. Garcia-Mendez and Ms. Ruiz for their unwavering dedication to our children and communities,” said Governor Steve Sisolak. “They are just two representatives of the many outstanding school employees across our State and we can all be proud to have them represent Nevada on the national stage.”

“School staff like Mr. Garcia-Mendez, Ms. Ruiz, and all of our amazing finalists are the heart of our education system,” said Jhone Ebert, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Classified employees create the safe, healthy, and welcoming environments that all children need to succeed and grow. I want to thank Governor Sisolak and join him in recognizing the importance of our classified employees today and every day.”

Governor Sisolak chose Nevada’s nominees from a pool of five finalists selected by the Nevada Department of Education based upon nominations made by school communities across Nevada. Nominees must demonstrate excellence in the following areas: work performance; school and community involvement; leadership and commitment; local support (from co-workers, school administrators, community members, etc., who speak to the nominee’s exemplary work); and enhancement of classified school employees’ image in the community and schools.

The three other finalists include Ms. Cas Woods, Ms. Doraisabel Gaxiola, and Ms. Dannielle Buckalew.
  • Ms. Cas Woods is described by nominator Principal Brent Judy as the “ultimate team player” at Virginia City Middle School in Storey County School District. She is an instructional aide in the special education program and is recognized for exceeding the expectations of her role during the time of COVID-19 by serving as one of two primary points of contact for distance learning. Ms. Woods is known for being helpful and patient, particularly when supporting the school community in adapting to new technology. She approaches support with the same level of empathy whether she is helping a student, a parent, or a coworker.

  • Ms. Doraisabel Gaxiola’s nominator, 2021 State Teacher of the Year Ms. Juliana Urtubey, describes her as demonstrating excellence in her work as an instructional aide at Kermit R. Booker Elementary School in Clark County School District as she leverages her strengths to support teachers and students, from developing and implementing engaging digital instruction to guiding others on how to navigate the new digital learning experience. Last year, she took on the role of the head collaborative team teaching to facilitate school-wide interventions and she’s been instrumental in assisting teachers connect with students and families.

  • Ms. Dannielle Buckalew works at Humboldt County School District’s Albert M. Lowry High School in the Comprehensive Life Skills Special Education Unit. She does everything from bathing and assisting paraplegic students to assisting fully ambulatory students through challenging courses including Algebra, Introduction to Physics, Graphic Design, and more. Ms. Buckalew is described by nominator Ms. Laurel Weaver as “an emissary between school and town community functions,” she is actively engaged in a number of community-based and Statewide non-profit organizations, and is recognized for fostering a culture of trust, support, and mentorship. 
Established by Congress in March of 2019, this is the inaugural year for the RISE Award. The RISE Award recipient will be announced by the U.S. Department of Education in spring 2021.



Terri Hendry