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2024 Employee Excellence Award Winners
Dr. Smith, Kathy Gutierrez Miller, Jon Lindfors, Christine Holguin, Kristyn Day, Sarah Babovic, Board President Carol Crane

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) Board of Education recognized district employees who go above and beyond their job descriptions during its March 12 meeting. The five 2024 Employee Excellence Award recipients were selected from more than 100 nominations submitted by fellow employees, supervisors, and community members. 

“Congratulations to our exceptional award-winners whose commitment to excellence embodies the spirit of our collective mission to inspire, educate, and elevate each other, our students, and our community. Your impact resonates beyond the walls of our schools," said Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith. 

Honorees were presented with an official certificate, crystal trophy, and lapel pin recognizing their achievements. The 2024 Employee Excellence Award winners are:

Sarah Babaovic

Sarah Babovic, Library Media Technician, Woodland Elementary

Lovingly known by Woodland students as Mrs. Bubblefish, the magnetic Sarah Babovic takes an inclusive approach to her position as a library media technician. Whether planning activities for Read Across America or Kindness Week or choosing a book to read to students during their library time, Babovic is thoughtful and intentional. She is known for her attentiveness to students’ interests and is always seeking new materials to enhance books’ educational concepts in a way that brings the text to life. As a vital part of the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team, she helps build a positive school culture in which students thrive. She uses every opportunity to share her enthusiasm for literature and learning with students, even creating a “librarian assistant” role that students can select as a PBIS reward. Beyond the library, Babovic is a well-organized, cheerful team member who will eagerly step in for additional student supervision, and during fire and other safety drills, she ensures there are no gaps in the communication between school and home. She is a beacon of connection at Woodland.  

Kristyn Day

Kristyn Day, Teacher, Andersen Elementary

As some students’ first connection to school, Transitional Kindergarten Teacher Kristyn Day understands the importance of creating a positive, nurturing environment from the start. She creates an engaging learning experience with each child in mind, regularly communicating with parents about their student’s successes and her efforts to make school a joyful place every day. Parents have commended Day for her role in supporting students’ individual needs, whether with additional attention, targeted instruction, a food-allergy-free snack, or simply a reassuring smile. 

In nominating Day, one parent said, “Ms. Day was always a wealth of information every time I interacted with her. We attribute my son’s huge improvements in his first experience in elementary school entirely to his relationship with Ms. Day.” At the end of the school year, Day presents each student with a gift: a personal letter noting how important they are to her, plus a binder highlighting their progress and special classroom memories. As a testament to the welcoming school culture Day creates, another parent reported her child regularly requests to review the binder so she can relive the fond memories she has of her time with Day.

Kathy Gutierrez Miller

Kathy Gutierrez Miller, Buyer, Purchasing Department

The process for purchasing supplies or equipment can be daunting, but Kathy Gutierrez Miller is ready to coach her fellow employees through every step with patience and kindness. Well-known throughout the district as being super-helpful, she handles even the trickiest requests with a friendly smile and expert efficiency. Despite a heavy workload, multiple supervisory and personnel changes, supplier switches, and software updates, Miller always keeps a cool head. She patiently asks questions that help her understand what is needed, and then makes suggestions based on her years of experience. Even when she is thinking outside the box, Miller strives to solve purchasing issues with a calm demeanor. 

Christine Holguin

Christine Holguin, Office Assistant II, Engagement, Partnership & Expanded Learning

Many challenges may arise when a department grows and changes. When that happens, those departments need someone like Christine Holguin. She is highly organized as well as flexible, has a positive attitude, communicates well, excels at collaboration, and brings creativity and innovation to every situation. In addition to her daily responsibilities, Holguin took the initiative to manage enrollment into the district’s after-school program, Project Kidz Connect, and was instrumental in the registration process for Expanded Learning Enrichment Opportunities. Her patience and wealth of experience are evident in her thoughtful feedback, and when things are unclear, she confers with department staff to ensure program quality does not suffer. She knows how essential a collaborative relationship is to success. Holguin is always willing to adapt and add to her multifaceted skill set. As the Engagement, Partnership & Expanded Learning department has expanded, it has become clear that Holguin is its backbone. 

Jon Lindfors

Jon Lindfors, Piano Teacher and Choral Director, Costa Mesa Middle and High School

For more than 30 years, Jon Lindfors has encouraged music students at Costa Mesa Middle and High School. In addition to teaching Piano, he leads the vocal ensemble, concert choir, and madrigal choir, which performed at the district’s State of the Schools Breakfast in October 2023. 

Described as a “true gem of a teacher,” Lindfors is known among the Mesa community as compassionate and inclusive toward his students. The welcoming environment he creates for his students extends to their families, as he stands ready to support the school’s young musicians. He will work with students who have scheduling conflicts to ensure they continue to receive the musical instruction and guidance they need. When one family approached him for advice on their student’s birthday gift, Lindfors provided specifics for just the right keyboard to suit their child. Lindfors’ passion for music is an inspiration to students.   

Thanks to the remarkable efforts of these staff members and countless others, the district continues to showcase a passion for education and professionalism. NMUSD commends the 2024 Employee Excellence Award winners and looks forward to future successes.