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Pittsburg Unified School District

Every Scholar, Every Day. They Deserve Nothing Less Than Our Best.

Pittsburg Unified School District

Every Scholar, Every Day. They Deserve Nothing Less Than Our Best.
Celebrating Stories of Pittsburg Pride

Click on a name to read their story!
Celebrating Stories of Pittsburg Pride

Amy Karhu

Pittsburg Pride Spotlight: Amy Karhu - Dancing into a Healthier and Happier Life
Amy   Hardwood Classics group photo
In the heart of Pittsburg, a remarkable story is unfolding—Amy Karhu, a devoted teacher at Pittsburg High School, has gracefully taken center stage as a member of the Golden State Warriors Hardwood Classics dance group. Amy's decision to audition for the Hardwood Classics was a bold step, driven by her desire to represent her city on a grand scale. Undeterred, she embraced the challenge with unwavering resolve, proving that passion and determination can indeed triumph over a lack of experience.
The auditions were challenging, requiring participants to grasp intricate routines within a limited timeframe, all while striving to stand out amidst stiff competition. Nevertheless, Amy's unwavering determination and authentic approach set her apart, securing her a coveted spot among the elite 29 dancers for the 2023-24 season.
Amy's role extends beyond the dance floor; she is a respected educator, shaping young minds at Pittsburg High School. Juggling the demands of a full-time teaching position with the commitment to the Hardwood Classics dance group, Amy exemplifies the art of dedication and time management.
This accomplishment is also part of a bigger journey for Amy, as just two years ago, she faced serious health challenges on the verge of diabetes. In a testament to her resilience, she conquered a Spartan Challenge, transforming her life and becoming an inspiration for others facing personal obstacles.
As she takes her place among the 29 dancers for the upcoming season, Amy Karhu is proud to represent herself and Pittsburg. Her story is a testament to the belief that with passion, determination, and a commitment to excellence, one can rise to the occasion and achieve greatness. In the grand arena of the Golden State Warriors, Amy dances not only for herself but for the entire community of Pittsburg!
Amy and Son   Amy  
November 2023

Donald Lloyd

Meet Donald Lloyd, Head Custodian, Heights Elementary 5/12/2021

I have Pittsburg Pride because this is a great organization.
Pittsburg, to me, is more family orientated
I work in Pittsburg because it's where I reside.
Being able to interact with the children is what I enjoy most about my job.
I try to inspire others by being pleasant to people.
It is rewarding to feel the energy and the love from other co- workers and staff members.

Donald Llyod

Anna Gabriela Velásquez

Meet Anna Gabriela Velásquez, 5th Grade Dual Immersion Teacher Willow Cove Elementary School 4/13/2021

I have spent most of my life here in Pittsburg. I was a student at Stoneman Elementary, a member of the GATE program hosted at Willow Cove in 2004, part of the last class promoted from Central Jr. High School in 2008, and finally part of Pittsburg High School's class of 2012. I also got to learn more about the city as a member of the Pride of Pittsburg, the Pittsburg High School Marching Show Band. Wherever life has taken me, I’ve always been led back here… This is home!
Anna Gabriela Velásquez
Aside from Pittsburg being my home, I love that I have always had a diverse community surrounding me. Being a first-generation American, I spent my early years mainly embracing my Guatemalan culture. Although it is who I am and I love every bit of it, I’m thankful to have learned so much from my friends that all came from different cultures and backgrounds. Growing up in Pittsburg meant hearing different languages, tasting different foods, listening to all kinds of music, and seeing different family traditions right in my neighborhood and schools. It helped me grow into a person that now wants to see that for the future generations in my family and wherever I go.
Right after high school, I attended Los Medanos College. I became a tutor for students from kindergarten to twelfth grade throughout all of PUSD. As many college students do, I swayed back and forth between the professions I would be pursuing. Working with the children in this district very early in my career made any other option difficult to choose. Since then, I’ve felt called to be a teacher. Once I transferred to San Francisco State University, I worked as a tutor and mentor for High School juniors and seniors in San Francisco. I loved every moment of it, but I always thought back of my experiences with my teachers in Pittsburg. I would think of how my math teacher, Mr. Butterfield, would help me with my calculus classes even while I was in college and he had 6 classes of students of his own and how my english teacher, Mr. Pyle, would always cheer on my small milestones throughout my young adulthood (and still does). My teachers really impacted my understanding of the word “community” and I knew that I wanted to work for this district that continuously molded me into the person that I am today so I could instill those values in the future generations in Pittsburg, as well.

I definitely love my students! They are so funny, smart, and witty. I love having the opportunity to teach them so they can get one step closer to being biliterate. The families I’ve worked with have been great! The cherry on top of working in a great community?! My awesome coworkers. I began my career at PUSD as a substitute teacher. Willow Cove’s staff was always kind and willing to help me throughout my whole journey to where I’m at now. I am very grateful to be part of such a wonderful team.
Anna Gabriela Velásquez
I don’t know if I necessarily inspire others, although I hope that my students are inspired every day. I love celebrating my students and their successes! It is my goal for my students to know about the world outside of this small town. As much as I love Pittsburg, I want to make sure that my students leave my class with an understanding of what is just so that they may continue to build on that as they grow up. I want them to learn about inclusion, diversity, about the importance of black and indigenous people of color in our communities and how they help shape our society. I want to make sure that they feel empowered every day in my classroom so that they may empower those around them wherever they go. I don't know if I necessarily do anything specific, but I hope that inspiration is found along the way!

The most rewarding thing is seeing how my students have grown as people and scholars by the end of the school year! This is only my 3rd year teaching, but it has been a great treat having my students that are now in 6th grade email me to say hello and to tell me about their experiences in junior high. I can't wait to see them continue to succeed throughout their schooling within PUSD.

Jennifer Bowen

Meet Jennifer Bowen, Heights Elementary Teacher 3/10/2021

I love my school, Heights. I have worked here for 17 years. I consider our staff to be my friends and my family: it is truly my home. Being away from everything this year has been very difficult but it has made me realize how important my school and Pittsburg are to me. I love organizing events for our community, which has also been difficult this year. So, instead, I have helped organize Latino Cultural Month and Black History Month Bitmoji classrooms with Family Scavenger Hunts.
Jennifer Bowen
Pittsburg is a very strong community. I love that there is "Pittsburg Pride" all the way from pre-school to high school. I get teary eyed every time I see Pitt High's marching band. I have never lived or worked in a place with such a strong sense of community.

I came to Pittsburg by accident, actually. I had friends who were student teachers here and they gave my name to a principal. 17 years later, I wouldn't trade my job for anything.

I love my students. I love their honesty, and I love to watch their face as "the light goes on."

I hope I inspire parents and students because school wasn't always easy for me. As a person with learning disabilities, I can relate to how students and parents feel when they are having a difficult time. I often tell parents about my disability and that I went on to get a masters degree, so that they understand a diagnosis isn't the end for their student's academic career but a very helpful tool. I also hope I inspire others with Distance Learning this year. I prefer students in person, but I am making the best of it. I have tried my best to keep my class fully engaged and to support my grade level.

The most rewarding thing about my time at PUSD is having students come back and visit me; it fills my heart. I also really enjoy when another teacher says that they remember an ELD training I have presented and that they enjoyed it. 

Ernestina Chamorro

Meet Ernestina Chamorro, Parent Liaison 2/24/2021

As a member of this great and diverse community, I am proud of the resiliency that our community has developed. Regardless of challenges, Pittsburg community members unite to overcome adversity.
Pittsburg has adopted me and therefore it is my home. I will always do what is needed to support our families. Pittsburg’s families have demonstrated faith in our schools, shown their enthusiasm, dedication, and collaboration to help us grow and become one community and that marks the difference from other communities.
My children were raised in Pittsburg and they attended Pittsburg schools. Prior to working for PUSD, I was a parent volunteer for many years. Through my volunteering work, I became aware of the community’s needs and when the opportunity to serve the Pittsburg community came up, I took on my work commitment with pride. Working in Pittsburg was a good decision and has been a great way to give back to community that I respect and love!
By nature, I have a collaborative heart and am passionate to help others. I want to help bring significant positive changes to someone’s life. My job as Parent and Family Liaison requires me to have that kind of spirit and heart, so it is a perfect fit. My job is all about helping, supporting, advocating, and making changes in people’s homes. The experiences and outcomes I witness help keep me inspired and committed to do my job.
I inspire others through my dedication, enthusiasm, and by having a positive attitude. Through the facilitation of different workshops within the district, parents can see my genuineness. I empower them to learn more about the school system, and I share how to advocate for their student, to make sure they succeed academically and socially in our schools.
The daily interaction with PUSD families has helped me grow and expand in other areas. Troubleshooting parent issues and bringing them solutions matters to me. I have also created meaningful relationships with the families I serve and coworkers throughout the district.
It is a pleasure serving PUSD families, and I will continue with my dedication, like if my time will never end.

Abraham Abullarade

Meet Abraham Abullarade, Full Service Community School Site Coordinator 1/13/2021

As a resident of Contra Costa County, I am proud to work in a city and school district that cares deeply about ensuring equity and academic excellence through a whole child approach. I am deeply grateful to be part of the Pittsburg “village” that cultivates a culture where students are empowered to become the future community leaders here in the local area.
Pittsburg is distinct from other communities through its deep sense of legacy and pride. After starting with PUSD I immediately noticed how the community works together for collective impact. Everyone bands together to ensure that we achieve our mission of creating life-long learners who contribute positively to the world. The sense of pride in Pittsburg also gives it a distinct flavor and is made evident by the generations of families who are rooted in the city and work towards a flourishing and vibrant community.
I have been passionate about the Community Schools initiative for more than 10 years and have seen the model in several school districts in the Bay Area. Pittsburg showed me the power of community in Community Schools through its diverse, united, and resilient students, families, educators, and community members.
The relationships that I have made within the PUSD family is what I love most about my job. Through my co-workers I have learned that life-long learning is not just a goal for our students but also something we encourage amongst each other. I have also been fortunate enough to be around people who love 90’s Hip Hop and R&B as much as I do and enjoy a good laugh.
Growing up, I had positive mentors who were quick to point out my strengths and gifts even when I didn’t see them in myself. That fuels me to celebrate the successes of others and identify the potential I see in our students. I also draw plenty of inspiration from my co-workers, students, wife and daughter!
The most rewarding aspect so far has been my role in the inaugural Young Men of Purpose (YMP) mentoring program at Highlands Elementary. The program focuses on character, citizenship, and academics and aims to inspire young men to effectively manage their lives, overcome obstacles, and pursue their goals. Our sessions would be the highlight of my week as the group engaged in community building activities and discussed successes and challenges. The spontaneous visits from former YMP students and their parents have also impressed upon me that PUSD is a family where we encourage each other.

It is a tremendous privilege and honor to work at PUSD. I look forward to continuing to serve and learn from our community. All while occasionally quoting song lyrics and random scenes from The Office.

Ms. Luz Aguilar-Ferrell

Meet Ms. Luz Aguilar-Ferrell, English Language Coordinator 1/7/2021

Pittsburg is a diverse and invested community and I feel that I am part of it.
Pittsburg was my home for about 10 years and it treated me well. Based on that and despite the fact that we moved out, I wanted to continue supporting Highlands Elementary parent community and its staff anyway possible.
I was given the opportunity to work in Pittsburg based on my bilingual skills to support with the English Learner Program as well as our Spanish speaking families. I took on the task because I was drawn to serve as a link to facilitate communication between school and families, so parents, in turn, could support their students.
My role has grown through the 21 years that I have served in the district. I continue assisting our Spanish speaking families as well as many others. I appreciate the trust that families and staff have placed on me to support and/or troubleshoot needs and issues, and to have the freedom to initiate and explore different ways to offer extra support where needed. Being part of a supporting team when completing tasks is also very rewarding.
I do not know that I inspire others. However, I am an active participant within our school and family community. My hope is that it leads to increased positive outcomes for all of our stakeholders.
I feel that my work and interaction with the Highlands school community has enabled me to grow at a personal level. Learning about our families strengths and character, has allowed me to expand my areas of reach to better serve them. I believe I have created meaningful relationships with families and their students as well as coworkers and staff throughout the district.
I will continue working with the Pittsburg School District until they decide to get rid of me :)

Kristi Walton

Meet Ms. Kristi Walton, Music Teacher at Los Medanos Elementary 12/8/2020

My mother and father moved my sister and I to Pittsburg when I was almost 5 years old. I attended Parkside Elementary School, where I discovered a love of music. I fell in love with music because of Mr. French. When musicians from Hillview Junior High came to our campus to show off their band, I knew I had to be a part of that. I went on to Hillview Junior High and music saved me from the crippling anxiety I had about going to a new school, where I knew no one. I continued Band and was a member of the Pride of Pittsburg, The Pirates Marching Show Band with Mr. Cross. I have had other great music instructors, but these men started me off on my music path. This is where my Pittsburg Pride started and where it still comes from today.
Pittsburg, although still growing in population all the time, still feels like a small community in many ways. There are still small businesses where I shop (I went to school with the owners) and fun downtown experiences. For example, I can take my own daughters to the Ice Rink or the Holiday Parade. But, what I really like about Pittsburg is the diversity of its residents. We are all different, yet, for the most part, we walk down the street and nod or say good morning to each other. There is a true family feeling of unity within the school community and the neighborhood community in which I live. The city itself is also nestled between the hills and the Delta. All of these reasons combined are what I believe makes Pittsburg special.

I have lived and gone to Pittsburg schools since 1978. Even after I graduated and went off to college, I still returned to the Pittsburg schools where my mother, Patti LaValley, worked and I volunteered. I knew the people who worked within PUSD. They were my friends, and after I graduated college, they became my colleagues. By working for PUSD, I feel I am giving back to the community where I grew up. I am helping make kids feel safe and accepted, the way Mr. McKay and Mr. Cross made me feel. I am paying my community back for all it has given me.
This is my twenty-first year teaching with PUSD. My job, especially now that I teach music, is so rewarding. I loved teaching first grade and seeing students' eyes light up when they understood a concept, but music has always been my love. I don't do well with big changes, so going to new schools was hard for me as a child. Music was my connection at every school. Now, I teach music and I try to instill that love in my students. Whether its through instrumental music and teaching band, through vocal music and teaching choir, or just sitting with a class and explaining how the song Sleigh Ride works, I enjoy seeing my class get excited to participate in the lesson. I love that they are enthusiastic to come to class, both when we were doing live instruction on campus and even now, when we are are doing lessons remotely (on the computer). Even during Distance Learning, they are still excited to come and see me on Zoom.
Kristi and students
I don't know how much I inspire others. If I do, it's through the small things. Taking a six-year-old's hand and making her feel safe as we skate during a field trip, explaining to a band member how to better their sound, or just being there to listen when a student needs an ear and shoulder to lean on, I am there for them. I think maybe they inspire me and it just goes full circle.
My most rewarding thing about my time at PUSD is watching my own daughters grow up in the same district that I grew up attending. I have come full circle now watching my oldest daughter, Ella, be a part of the Pride of Pittsburg, The Pirates Marching Show Band. I get to see it all again through the eyes of my daughters.
Thank you to a community that has been there for me through good times and hard; I can't thank you all enough.

Melanie Bruno

Meet Ms. Melanie Bruno, School Clerk II at Parkside Elementary 12/4/2020

I was born and raised in Pittsburg. I am a 4th generation PUSD employee (starting with my great grandfather - Original head custodian at the original Central JH), Parkside Alumni (K-5th), I went from one side of the counter to the other. I tell Mr. Varner, "You're stuck with me!" Pittsburg High School graduation class of 2000. Once a Pirate - Always a Pirate!!
Pittsburg is one of the most diverse, hard working communities. I get to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the Bay Area, between Mt. Diablo and the Delta.
Growing up, my parents instilled morals of hard work, love, Italian/Sicilian traditions, and faith. Following in their footsteps, I started as an instructional aide over 15 years ago and was able to work my way up. Working with the kids has been very rewarding for me, they keep me grounded.
I love working with the children, they remind me every day to enjoy the simple things in life. I love working with such an awesome team of positive people. I have the best bosses in the world, Mr. Varner and Ms. Ireland!
I think I inspire others to do the right thing, be kind, do the things you love, be able to laugh at yourself, and stay positive. I love being artistic with photography, coloring, and Color Street nails. I think this allows me to inspire others to express themselves artistically.
Seeing the smiles on the kids' faces makes me smile. Watching them grow, learn, and mature makes me proud. I love it when I make phone calls and former students, who haven't heard my voice in 10 years, know who I am before I even announce myself. They know my voice and they tell me how they remember me cleaning their scrapes at recess or helping them with another issue. It makes me feel like I made a difference.

Sean Sturgis

Meet Mr. Sean Sturgis, HVAC Technician 10/29/2020

I have Pittsburg Pride because I was born and raised in Pittsburg.
Pittsburg has so much diversity in its schools and is the most diverse city in the Bay Area, in my opinion. As far as I can remember, we've always had a variety of ethnic groups in Pittsburg. In the 1980's, neighboring towns had very few African American football players on their high school teams, but in Pittsburg this was different. We have been an understanding and family oriented community for many, many years.
Pittsburg is where my family lives. My teammate’s kids go to the school in Pittsburg and my classmate's kids are here. When I started working for PUSD, people like Joanie Orlando (cafeteria worker) and Mr. Phil Webb (Pittsburg High) were still working here and I remember them from when I was a student. The longevity of those who work for PUSD  make it a place that feels like home. When you think of your teammate's or classmate's kids as family, you go the extra mile to fix things for them, because it is personal. I take a lot of pride in my work.
I see my job as a way of giving back. Accomplishing something or fixing things for students and staff feels good.
I try to inspire others by leading by example. I try to work hard at my job, to the best of my ability. I try not to be verbal, but my hope is that I inspire with my actions.
I think the most rewarding thing is twofold. I love giving back to my community by being the best HVAC technician I can be. It feels good to know that the students and staff have cool and warm temperatures in their classrooms.
The second most rewarding thing about my job at PUSD is creating friendships with coworkers. Not just co-workers in my department, but coworkers throughout the staff and teachers. PUSD is a great community to work in.

Hilda Porter

Meet Ms. Hilda Porter, Bus Driver 10/22/2020

I’ve been in Pittsburg my whole life. I was raised here, and received my education from Village, Heights, Los Medanos, Hillview and finally Pittsburg High School, graduating in 1982. While residing in Pittsburg, I have acquired many friends from all ethnic backgrounds and love them all.
Pittsburg is wonderful in so many ways. The beautiful difference here from many other cities is the diversity in our community. Families have lived here for generations and generations, and we don’t see the differences in one another. All cultures are so appreciative of each other.
I had children, and since I was living in Pittsburg, I felt working in town was such a great opportunity and blessing.
My job gave me a lot of time with my children. My breaks were the same as their school breaks, such as summer and all holidays. Being a bus driver allowed me to be on my children's field trips, including fieldtrips for my friends' children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. It was awesome to be part of their time and to see their excitement, especially for the Barrel trips and sporting events. To be a part of these moments with the students is a wonderful thing to me. I get to see every emotion, whether it be good, bad, happy, or sad – I am part of that experience. I am able to talk with the students about their achievements. And, when it is not a great outcome, I am there with them.
I think I try to inspire others by being positive and uplifting. I’m not sure if that is inspiring, but I try to give a good impression, treat them as I want to be treated, always smile, and work willingly with others.
Seeing students that have ridden my bus find their place in life. Every once in a while a former student will tell me, “Mrs. Hilda, I did what you told me and it worked! Thanks!” Or, I get a wave from them or a parent who has trust in me, knowing I would and will do everything I can to get their child to and from school safely. My relationship with students is genuine.
I work with wonderful people. I have been working for PUSD for 21 years. From my first day to present, I have had great relationships with my supervisors and all staff members, Principals, Vice Principals, Teachers, Aides, Coaches, Mechanics, Groundskeepers, Custodians – all of them, and they all have Pittsburg Pride.  There is no other place like Pittsburg. It has deep roots in the family; you can tell when someone is from Pittsburg just by their behavior. There’s no other place like Pittsburg – once a Pirate – always a Pirate –Pittsburg Pride!

Amitai Padilla

Meet Ms. Amitai Padilla, MTSS Specialist 1/6/2020

I have grown professionally and as a person in Pittsburg. I also know many others who grew up in Pittsburg and had similar experiences that I did where they flourished in a diverse or larger city. This was partly due to the advantage of living in a diverse community.
One of Pittsburg's best features is the diverse community! We are very fortunate to have so many countries, cultures, and languages represented in our small city in the East Bay Area. I enjoy learning from all the different cultures around us and am always mindful of the different needs of the groups. I appreciate that we are also able to come together and learn from each other.
I started working at PUSD after I graduated from PHS! I started as a substitute clerk, aide, and noon duty supervisor. I was in college at the time and I really enjoyed working in my community. At the time, I was volunteering at two places and had another part-time job on top of being a full-time student. Once I finished my A.A. from Los Medanos College, I transfered to San Francisco State University. Even after moving to SF, I stayed working part-time at PUSD as a substitute because I enjoyed it so much! After I graduated with my B.A., doors opened for a full-time position at Marina Vista Elementary. I was so sure I would be happy there, and I was right. I have now had a full-time position at PUSD for over 4 years and have worked for PUSD for a total of 9 years!
What I love most about my current position, MTSS Coordinator, is being able to listen to the needs of the school community. I work closely with school administration, school staff, District office staff, families, and partners in the community. It is so inspiring when I see everyone putting their part in to support the students and staff in need.
One of my beliefs is that people need the correct information at the correct time. I do the best I can to be a resource and provide information and support when it is needed. A large portion of my job is to support families in times of crisis and uncertainty. I have dedicated a large portion of my time to listening to others' needs and help mobilize them. Whether it means to sit and listen to someone in a confidential space or helping them make difficult phone calls. I do as much as possible for the family, so they feel empowered to make next steps happen.
The most rewarding part is definitely when I see the students and families that I supported make it farther than they were before! I don't think anything else makes me happier than to see the students and families get ahead and make changes in their lives for the best.
I am very humbled to be honored and to be of service of PUSD families. I appreciate the support and trust that my current and previous supervisors and school administrators have given me. The freedom they gave me when I first started full-time helped me develop into who I am today. Thank you and Go Pirates!

Arturo Fernandez

Meet Mr. Arturo Fernandez, 1st grade teacher at Parkside Elementary School 12/20/2019

Why Do You Have Pittsburg Pride?
Growing up in Pittsburg it’s hard not to have pride. My parents both grew up in Pittsburg, and I saw the pride in them. My mother, Shirley Archuleta, is a retired Oncology Nurse. When we would go to the store, she would see someone she knows and talk to them for what seemed like an eternity. People knew my mom was a nurse and would confide their health concerns or their family’s ailments; they wanted and trusted her opinion. That showed me at a young age that Pittsburg residents took care of each other.

My father, Jack Fernandez, is the kind of guy that everyone in Pittsburg knows. I’ve seen how he gives back to the community of Pittsburg, through many years of coaching. My dad has been on the booster committee for the Pittsburg High football team for over 20 years! I have accompanied him to booster events many times and when I see fellow Pittsburg High alumni give back at these events, it encourages me to do the same. Giving his time to the town he loves brings him a lot of happiness and I admire him for that.

When I am asked why I have Pittsburg Pride, I have to say it was modeled my entire life by my parents. I saw their love for this town, and I wanted to do the same. Pittsburg is a small town and still has that “small-town” feel.
Why Pittsburg? How is Pittsburg Different from Other Communities?
“Pittsburg looks out for Pittsburg,” is a saying I have heard for most of my life. I can attest that it is not just a saying, it really happens…in many ways, which I’ll try to illustrate below.

I remember feeling proud in school, knowing many of the faculty members knew my family. It was a sense of community that gave me a better learning experience. Growing up, we always went to Pittsburg High football games. We would sit with family and friends to watch the game. I remember being mesmerized on Friday nights with the game, the band, and the chants. It’s a Pittsburg Pride feeling you get. But, besides just connecting through athletics, we also connect when there’s a time of need. I have personally witnessed people come together to raise money for fellow community members with outstanding hospital bills.

Within the school community, while working at Parkside, I’ve seen a whole other side of giving back. I’ve seen staff give extra backpacks, clothing, and school supplies to students in need. We have sponsored families during the holidays by providing meals and gifts. It is amazing to see our community so willing to give and look out for each other.
You Graduated from Pittsburg High, Right? Why Did You Decide to Come Back to Your Hometown and Teach?
I graduated in the class of 1999 from Pittsburg High School. During my time as a student in PUSD, I had some amazing teachers that taught me more than just the standards. After I graduated, I wanted to do the same. Like my parents instilled Pittsburg Pride in me, this is my way of giving back to a town that helped raise me. Teaching at Parkside has been a fit because I’m constantly reminded about the importance of family and what this small town represents.

What Do You Love Most About Your Job?
The part of my job I love the most is getting to know my students. Each student has their own unique personality. Using their personality and interests to teach them is rewarding. We have amazing students that come in and out of our school district. It is an amazing and proud feeling to be greeted with joy from a current or former student at the store or outside of school.
How Do You Try to Inspire Others?
I inspire others by talking to them and getting to know them. You can get to know students by listening and watching their actions. As an educator, you want to find what motivates students, and you build from that to inspire them.

What is Most Rewarding About Your Time at PUSD?
In my first year of teaching, I was not at Parkside. I taught fifth grade and did not have any books for my class library. Word got back to the librarian at Parkside and she rallied the teachers and staff to help me out. A few days later, I received seven boxes of books for my class library. I appreciated the support from Parkside and will never forget this act of kindness.

Anything You Want to Add?
I have worked with many amazing people throughout my years as a substitute and full-time teacher. These educators have inspired and motivated me to elevate myself as a teacher. I want to give a shout-out to all of the past and present teachers I have had the honor to learn from. You are some of the most amazing teachers! Thank you, for making me strive to be the best teacher I can be.

Alejandra Esqueda

Meet Ms. Alejandra Esqueda, MTSS Specialist 12/10/2019

Why Do You Have Pittsburg Pride?
Pittsburg is a huge part of who I am. I have lived in Pittsburg my entire life! I attended Parkside Elementary, Central Jr. High, and Pittsburg High. I had a positive experience growing up in Pittsburg and now working here. Both combined have instilled a great sense of pride in my heart for the place that I’m from. I am fortunate to be from here and now given the chance to give back. The youth in our schools are such wonderful young people with so much to give and I love that!
Why Pittsburg? How is Pittsburg Different from Other Communities?
Pittsburg is a great representation of a “melting pot” with such a diverse population and as diverse as it is, we are a pretty close-knit community. I feel we are a community that is welcoming, safe, and pleasant.
Did You Graduate from Pittsburg High? If So, Why Did You Decide to Work in Your Hometown?
I am indeed a proud Pittsburg High graduate (Class of 2006!). Go Pirates! I have been working with youth for 13 years and in PUSD schools for 10 years. I just love working in my hometown. It was actually in high school that I found my calling in life and decided to work with youth. I knew I wanted to become the best version of myself so that I could one day become an example and mentor for young people in my community. The joy and benefits I received from my educational experience here in Pittsburg are immeasurable, so I want to give back to my community and school district. Working in my hometown has aided me in my service because I am part of the same diverse culture my youth are from; therefore, I can understand them better.
What Do You Love Most About Your Job?
I do not see what I do as merely a job; it is more of an opportunity. Each day I am met with countless opportunities to truly make an impact. My job is to help put supports in place for our at-risk or most vulnerable students. I strive to do this by reaching students in their classrooms, in the After School Programs, or in the dance/sports programs I coach. Additionally, I enjoy teaching students relaxation and reflective activities in the Reflection Room at Willow Cove Elementary School. It is a new room we opened to provide a safe and peaceful place on our site where students can come when they are having a rough day or conflicts. Every day is different and I love it! I aim to help build independent, confident students and leaders. It’s amazing for us all to watch the shy, quiet youth unfold into confident young people. Also, I want to point out that every day I come to work, I am met by so many encouraging people who have the same aspirations I do. There are so many amazing people to learn from in PUSD.
How Do You Try to Inspire Others?
Those who know me or have worked alongside me know that I truly believe in the potential and future of every person. Something I remind others is that our youth are not “just kids” as some describe them. Our youth are young people with great potential; they are future adults who can bring something special to others. I want others to also know this and I model it by setting high expectations for our youth. I help guide them in their journeys by teaching them about hard work. I seek to inspire youth by reminding them that I believe in them and that they can do anything they put their minds and hearts into. I make sure the students know that I care for them and their future. I want to inspire others in PUSD to work hard in making a difference in young people’s lives because every young person in our district deserves it.
What is Most Rewarding About Your Time at PUSD?
I am blessed each day with opportunities to have a positive impact on someone’s day and that has been the most rewarding of all. Knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life, or even just their day, is fulfilling on so many levels. Some days are tough, but I know at the end of each day that what I do for youth is something good and I feel proud of that. In addition, working in PUSD schools and closely with students and their families, I’ve been blessed with becoming a member of so many families. I genuinely feel so honored and fortunate to be backed by the love and trust of so many people with their children.

Heidi Leber

Meet Ms. Heidi Leber, Principal, Hillview 10/30/2019

Why Pittsburg?
I was born and raised in Pittsburg and am extremely proud of our community. Prior to becoming a Principal at Hillview, I was an English and AVID teacher at Pittsburg High School and a Vice-Principal at Hillview. Not only have I worked in Pittsburg for the past 24 years, but I am also a product of Pittsburg Unified. I attended Highlands Elementary, Central Jr. High School, and graduated from Pittsburg High. I raised my daughter in Pittsburg and am proud that she is also a Pittsburg High graduate.

How is Pittsburg Different from Other Communities?
Pittsburg Unified has been a great foundation for many of my friends and family members, giving opportunities to create life-changing experiences that help shape this community in which we live and work. I love how diverse our students and families are about their cultures, and how willing they are to be accepting of others who come from different backgrounds.
What is Most Rewarding about Your Time at PUSD?
Because I have been a part of PUSD for so long, I have the honor of seeing the successes of former students come back from college, from career opportunities, as parents of current PUSD students. I truly believe that the best thing we can do for our students is to give them choices. In order to inspire our students, we need to connect learning in the classroom to real-world, future goals and dreams.

Why Do You Have Pittsburg Pride?
I love being able to work in a community in which I grew up and see how much our Pittsburg community continues to give and inspire those around us. Once a pirate, always a pirate!

Ana Perez

Meet Ms. Ana Perez, Parent and Family Liaison at MLK 10/25/2019

Why Do You Have Pittsburg Pride?
In years past, I always enjoyed coming to Pittsburg on vacation to visit my brother and his family. After relocating here, the Pittsburg community took my heart… the green hills, the events, and the diversity. I started having a sense of belonging, a sense of pride.
Why Pittsburg? How is Pittsburg Different from Other Communities?
I was born and raised in Meoqui Chihuahua, Mexico. I attended the local public schools there and obtained a B.A. in Education from The Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua. I was a teacher in Mexico and taught Spanish and History for 10 years. In 1996, I immigrated to the United States from Chihuahua, where I had lived for 33 years. After moving to Pittsburg, I started volunteering in the schools my children attended (Highlands, Hillview, and Pittsburg High). My heart was always full of joy, looking at how principals and teachers dedicated their time and effort to all scholars.
What Do You Love Most About Your Job?
When I had my 4th child in preschool, I started volunteering more in the preschool classroom, and my teaching spirit made me get a job there. While working in the preschool program for three years, I saw many parents struggling, like me, to communicate with their teachers in English. I decided it was time for me to go to Pittsburg Adult Education Center (PAEC) to learn more English and help the families. I started translating for them in schools, at ELAC meetings, and other school events. I attended Los Medanos College and took child development classes to obtain my California Teaching Credential as a preschool teacher. But, instead of teaching preschool, I took a job in 2005 with Pittsburg Unified School District as a teacher’s aide at Foothill Elementary. A few years later, I became a parent coordinator at Foothill.
The parent coordinator position evolved into my current role, Parent and Family Liaison. With the name change and new duties came more involvement and more opportunities for me to help families to learn, to get involved, and to advocate for their children. This is my 14th year working for Pittsburg Unified District, and every day it still feels like the 1st day. I spent 7 years at Foothill Elementary and have been in my current position at Martin Luther King Jr. JHS for 7 years.
My passion was always teaching; however, once I became a Parent Coordinator/Parent and Family Liaison, something clicked, I knew this is what I was called to do. Working with families, the school staff, and the scholars…and helping them to become successful in life, makes me feel more complete. I love to help and serve my families. Now, I can say Pittsburg is my home and I have Pittsburg Pride.
How Do You Try to Inspire Parents?
Parents inspire me to bring out the best in me!
What is Most Rewarding about Your Time at PUSD?
Working and getting to know the families is always the reward. When I see their children growing and doing well, I feel so accomplished. I especially feel proud when I greet parents at stores in the community…and they still remember how much I care for them and their families.

Rose Henderson

Meet Ms. Rose Henderson, Parent and Family Liaison at Heights 10/3/2019

Why Do You Have Pittsburg Pride?
I have Pittsburg Pride because of the teamwork, can-do attitude of my co-workers, and the deep respect I have for all of the administrators. I have worked for more than 22 years at PUSD and have deep roots in this community.
Why Pittsburg? How is Pittsburg Different from Other Communities?
I have lived in Pittsburg for about 30 years. All five of my children attended Heights Elementary and Pittsburg schools. My granddaughter currently attends Rancho Medanos Junior High School. I really enjoy the positive attributes of living in a small town; we know each other and look out for one another.
What Do You Love Most About Your Job?
I love my job because of my connection to the Heights community. I am fortunate to live and work in the same neighborhood.

How Do You Try to Inspire?
I try to be of service to our Heights families in any way that I can. I am happy to be supportive of our families and scholars by tapping into different community resources. By bringing resources to my Heights families, I try to make sure all our scholars have what they need to be successful in school.
What is Most Rewarding About Your Time with PUSD?
I have been taught so much about what it takes to educate and provide emotional support to our scholars. I am grateful for the experiences I have had and the many life-long friendships.
Anything You Want to Add?
It is a privilege to work on this campus and in this building. We have murals and a beautifully maintained garden that I visit often. Thank you for recognizing my part in Team PUSD.

Phil Lucido

Meet Mr. Phil Lucido, Vice Principal, Hillview 9/20/2019

Why Do You Have Pittsburg Pride?
I have had the honor of working with Pittsburg Unified School District for the past 22 years. I have seen our school district and community grow together through exceptional support for our students and families. I take pride in being an educator and administrator for Pittsburg Unified. I believe making lasting relationships with students, parents, and colleagues makes a better community for learning. I have Pittsburg Pride because I have grown as an educator and feel I am a part of our young scholars' developmental years that will support their future growth as life-long learners.
Why Pittsburg? How is Pittsburg Different from Other Communities?
Pittsburg is a community that wants the best for their children. I chose this community because my parents and grandparents were raised here and Pittsburg has so much pride and tradition. Pittsburg is different from other communities because families embrace each other when they know you care for them and their families.
What Do You Love Most About Your Job?
I love my job at Hillview because I feel the students, staff, and families have embraced my leadership and we have built trust and community that makes me have a sense of belonging. I am so thankful to get the opportunity to work with many of my former students' children and reconnect with the strong family ties to Pittsburg.
Phil and a man
How Do You Try to Inspire Scholars?
I inspire students to come with a positive attitude every day, despite the challenges that many of our scholars face. I also try to inspire our scholars by leading by example. This means coming to school with a positive attitude and showing every scholar that you believe in them and are willing to go the extra mile for students that really need you.
What is Most Rewarding About Your Time at Hillview?
The most rewarding time at Hillview is creating lasting relationships with students, staff, and parents that build trust and respect for each other. The last five years at Hillview, I have supported students by being on our Community of Service Team (COST) and applied Restorative Justice practices to assist scholars in resolving conflict. I have also been involved with Professional Development for our staff around Understanding by Design and Site Safety.

Antonio Baldazo

Meet Antonio Baldazo, PHS Grad 2/2/2019

When did you graduate? How did your time at PHS help prepare you for your career?
I graduated from PHS in 2014. I played football and wrestled at PHS. The balance of school and sports taught me how to manage my time. Along with managing my time, I learned that having the skills and brains is only half the work. In order to succeed, you can't be lazy and complacent. You must complete all the work you are assigned and build relationships with your superiors.
What has your career path been like? Where is your new job?
I went through Cal Poly and had internships in Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering, and finally Construction Management. For myself, third time was the charm. I found that Construction Management was the career that I loved the most. After interviewing with many companies, I found a job with Clark Construction in Washington DC.

Were you inspired by any of your teachers or experiences at PUSD?
While at PHS, I took an Architectural Design that led to me deciding on Cal Poly and Architectural Engineering. I was really helped by Natalie Moreno who was my biology teacher. She assisted me with my college essays and gave me general advice on schools.

Why do you have Pittsburg Pride?
I've lived in Pittsburg my entire life. I've played sports since all the way from Pittsburg JFL to senior year high school. I've seen the dedication that people have to this town. In turn, I also have tried to show my dedication to the town. I have worked for the local book store and farmer's market in order to contribute to the community. I love this town and while it saddens me to leave, I am trying to represent this town as well as possible.

Why is Pittsburg different/special from other communities?
Being from Pittsburg, we all live with a chip on our shoulder. As the phrase goes, we're Pittsburg Tough. This toughness is what bonds us all together. We are unafraid of a challenge and never back down. Pittsburg isn't only a community, its a family.

Anything you want to add?
If I could give any advice to those at PHS, I would tell them to see the world outside of Pittsburg so you can truly appreciate all that this city gives us. My time in Australia was the best time of my life but it also showed me that Pittsburg, CA was such a great place to grow up.

Raj Naicker

Meet Raj Naicker, Assistant Principal, Pittsburg High School 1/11/2019

Go Pirates – Pittsburg is truly an amazing community. Our strength is our diversity. I always have a sense of pride when I tell people I am Assistant Principal at Pittsburg High School. I was born and grew up in the Fiji Islands in Lautoka city- the second largest city in the Fiji Islands. I graduated High School from Natabua High School in Lautoka and obtained my Bachelors of Science Degree from The University of the South Pacific in Suva Fiji Islands. I immigrated to the USA in 2007 from New Zealand where I lived for 6 years. I started working for Pittsburg Unified school district in August 2007.  I was always passionate about teaching as I love being with kids and helping them to become successful in life. Since Pittsburg is my home now, I made a commitment to help and serve the people of Pittsburg and the students of Pittsburg High School.  I want to make a difference in the life of students at Pittsburg High School. My greatest joy is seeing students from Pittsburg High School doing well in their life.
Raj with a woman
I started with teaching Physics and Forensic Science at Pittsburg High School in 2007. The road to teaching at Pittsburg High School actually began in 1995 in the Fiji Island. I taught Math/Physics/Chemistry in various schools in the Fiji Islands for 8 years, Tangaroa College in Otara Auckland New Zealand for 3 years before moving to Pittsburg, California in 2007. This is my 11th year at Pittsburg High School. It is not easy to move from one country to another. Moving to a new country is always a challenge but this did not deter me from moving and facing the reality of life and learning about other cultures. I always remained optimistic. I had very good family support when I moved to the United States, therefore, settling here was really easy. Driving and getting a teaching job was not easy. It took me some time to get used to a steering wheel on the left-hand side of the car and driving on the right-hand side of the road. To get into teaching, I had to do my foreign transcript evaluation and so many different types of testing before I could apply for the teaching credential. The evaluation process and getting my single subject preliminary teaching credential took me a good 6 months. While teaching at Pittsburg High School, I went back to college -  completed my Master's Degree and my Administrative Teaching Credential from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga.
Raj in a group
This is my 11th year at Pittsburg High School – 7 years as a teacher and the last 4 years as an Assistant Principal. After being in the education profession for 23 years, I am totally blessed to be at Pittsburg High School and found fulfillment in a career for which I have true passion. As a teacher I know I provided a stimulating learning environment for the students at Pittsburg High School. I am honored to be Assistant Principal at Pittsburg High School and am so proud to serve our students, parents, and staff within the Pittsburg community for the past 11 years. I always want students to feel safe, valued and genuinely cared for at Pittsburg High School.
Raj with a woman
I would like to highly commend and acknowledge the Leadership teachers at Pittsburg High School for increasing and spreading the Pittsburg Pride in school. I genuinely believe school spirit is important because it sets the tone for various aspects of the school and its students. When the student body is involved in events on and off campus, it demonstrates a passion for Pirate Pride that is immeasurable and contagious.  I believe that school spirit translates into higher expectations of one’s self and surroundings, pushing for positive changes in school and home.
Raj and a man
I encourage students and teachers to show their love for Pittsburg High School every single day because it truly is wonderful to be a Pirate. I would like to thank everyone at Pittsburg Unified School District for their unwavering commitment and support for all the students in this District. My life is my message and it is our choices that show what we truly are. I am hoping I will and can inspire the students at Pittsburg High School to pursue their dreams. Life is a journey – never stop learning.

Kenny Winkler

Meet Kenny Winkler, Vice Principal, Willow Cove 12/14/2018

Kenny with students
I grew up in California, but the only Pittsburgh I knew of was in Pennsylvania, and I’d lived in the Bay Area for about six years before I ever set foot in California’s Pittsburg. At the time, Hillview Junior High School was one of the partner schools for the St. Mary’s College credentialing program, and I had to visit it. I had no desire to return. I didn’t want to teach middle school and didn’t want to drive way out to Pittsburg. Turns out Hillview was the only partner school that I could make work for my schedule. I figured I could get through a semester, and then I’d be on my way. Then, they offered to hire me as an intern at Hillview, which allowed me to finish my credential AND get paid. I had a little baby at home and plenty of student debt, so it was an easy choice. I could make it through a year, finish my credential, and then I’d be off to teach AP Senior English in a district closer to home.
Six years later, I was still teaching at Hillview. And for the past eight years, I’ve been an administrator at the elementary level, mostly at Willow Cove Elementary School. That’s over 14 years in Pittsburg. How did that happen?
Kenny with students
I’m not really sure, or I can’t really put it in words. Somewhere along the way, I realized I didn’t need to work closer to home because Pittsburg had become like a second home to me. I realized I didn’t need to teach a particular subject or work at a particular level because Pittsburg is full of good, hard-working people and families that I want to serve. People who look different, talk different, come from different places and backgrounds, but who are here now working together and learning together.
I have spent the bulk of my adult life working in Pittsburg, and while it is not what I was looking for, it is what I was supposed to find. I’m proud to work with such dedicated teachers, staff, and administrators, many of whom grew up in Pittsburg themselves. I’m proud of the relationships I have with PUSD employees and families. And I’m proud of so many students that I’ve seen go through the schools where I have worked. I’m proud to be a part of this community and grateful that my life didn’t go according to plan.
Kenny with Principal

Connie Spinnato

Meet Connie Spinnato, Assistant Principal, Pittsburg High School 12/6/2018

Although I did not grow up in Pittsburg or graduate from PHS, it is home for me. I was born and raised in Hayward and graduated from Mt. Eden High School. Upon graduation, I attended San Jose State and Saint Mary’s College. I then started my teaching career at Mt. Eden High School, as a physical education teacher and basketball coach, and became an assistant principal. I started working at Pittsburg High School in 2010, and I plan to stay until they kick me out…or I retire.
Connie in hall
I love Pittsburg High School and the community of Pittsburg. It is rich in pride and tradition, and it is very diverse, embracing the cultural backgrounds of all students. I feel very connected to Pittsburg High School and the community. I love coming to work each day, and I still love and respect what I do and the students I serve. PUSD is a great fit for me…and it was a fit from the first day as well as a great adventure.
Connie with students
What I love most about my job is the daily interactions with the students. I love the human connections and the relationships that we build with our students. I always came into education with the belief I wanted to make a difference in my students’ lives - to make them aware they are important and to make them feel like somebody. All the education in the world will never take the place of the relationships we build with our students. My wish is to leave a legacy of relationships. We have the best students you could ever ask for and they appreciate everything we do for them. My wish is that they all will reach their true potential and lead productive, fulfilling lives…and always feel that someone cared and guided them along the paths of life.

Joanne Ireland

Meet Joanne Ireland, Vice Principal, Parkside Elementary 11/29/2018

Joanne in class
My Pittsburg Pride all started with a house. I found a cute little stand-alone house I could buy all on my own in a quiet little neighborhood here in Pittsburg. Little did I know that my little home and move to Pittsburg would lead me to become so involved in our schools and our community! I have been a parent and community member here in Pittsburg. I have also had the opportunity to serve the children, teachers, and families of Pittsburg working as a teacher, an instructional coach, and now as an administrator at Parkside Elementary School.
Joanne in a group
Pittsburg is an amazing community where family is important. It is amazing how so many of our families can trace their history in Pittsburg back through generations. It is even more amazing how so many of our students and families find ways to give back and invest in making our present community a fabulous place to be. I have met some amazing people working with the community of Pittsburg both in and out of the schools. I have made friends here who became family.

My favorite part of any given day is working with students, teachers, and families. I am a firm believer in the power of yet. You may not have mastered this idea or that concept…yet. There is nothing more amazing than when the concept or idea is mastered and the student can say, “Look how I can…!” That moment of discovery is powerful. Making sure that a student has everything that they need in order to have that moment is priceless.
Joanne in a group

Staci Belleci

Meet Staci Belleci, Vice Principal, Highlands Elementary 11/21/2018

Staci with a student
Why Pittsburg?
This has been my home for almost my entire life; I was raised in Pittsburg, attended Highlands Elementary, Hillview Junior High and Pittsburg High School as a child. After graduating from college and obtaining my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, I came back to teach in Pittsburg because of the spirit and pride within our families and community. I wanted to give back to the place that gave me so many opportunities to build character, skills, and relationships that allowed me to thrive in life outside of Pittsburg. When I came back and began teaching here straight out of college, I knew that this would remain my professional home. Our students and families deserve people who understand them, and who know their value. Our students have so many gifts to offer, and it is my personal mission to help teachers, staff, and families uncover and reveal those gifts.
What makes Pittsburg different than other communities is the people! Many of our families have generations of family still residing here. It’s wonderful to inspire and encourage the children of parents I grew up with. Our families are passionate about this town and the many traditions that continue.
What I love most about my job are the students! It sounds so cliché to say, but it is what honestly drives me each and every day. Many of our students are so resilient and have great stories to tell. They look forward to a consistent face every day, knowing that they have someone who cares about them and supports their academic and socio-emotional learning. For this, I wake up every day with a purpose. For this, I give my whole heart to Pittsburg.
Staci in a group

Hue Phan

Meet Hue Phan, Vice Principal, Heights Elementary 11/15/2018

Hue with students
My journey with Pittsburg Pride began in August 1998 as a first year second-grade teacher at Willow Cove Elementary. I was a young graduate from Saint Mary’s College, and as a new teacher, I wanted to make a difference. My desire was to serve and inspire our scholars to reach their fullest potential.  I believe that all students are capable and have the potential to succeed with support, respect and the right resources and tools.  The metaphor I like to use is a beautiful garden with a variety of flowers in different colors, sizes, and shapes, and they need the right amount of water, sun, soil, and care. Similarly, our scholars need a champion who believes in them and shows them what they are capable of accomplishing.  I have had students come to my classroom at the beginning of the year, not knowing how to read and disliking math, but then leave my classroom at the end of the year as a reader and enjoying math.  Over the years, former students have visited me and told me that I inspired them to go to college. It’s an extremely rewarding feeling, and I am continuously motivated to do what I do because of it.
Hue with principal
After 15 years of being a classroom teacher, I made a very difficult decision to leave the classroom and become a BITSA mentor.  I was driven by the desire to have a bigger impact and help more than 25 students in a classroom. As a BITSA mentor, I worked with 15 new teachers across the district to inspire and help them improve their instructional practices.  I enjoyed supporting our new teachers because I can see their passion for helping and educating.  After a year as a BITSA mentor, a vice principal position at Heights Elementary became available, and I knew I wanted to do more and have an even more substantial impact on education and our students.  In 2014, I became vice principal of Heights Elementary.
Hue with large group of people
I am honored to be vice principal at Heights Elementary where I am proud to serve our students, parents, and staff within the Pittsburg Community for the past four years.  Over the years, Pittsburg has significantly changed for the better, and I wear this like a badge of honor when I hear administrators from other school districts say they notice the many incredible things PUSD is doing.  Pittsburg has been my second home for 20 years, and it will be home for many more years to come.  I wake up each morning looking forward to greeting our scholars as their parents drop them off and excitingly waiting to hear what stories the students will share with me. I cherish the daily hugs and smiles that come my way. I recently had a first-grade student hug and say, “Where were you yesterday, I wanted to tell you something, but you were not here.”  I cannot imagine being anywhere else but here.
My passion to teach, guide, and lead stems from my personal life. My family escaped Vietnam and came to the United States when I was nine years old.  As the oldest of nine children, I matured quickly and developed leadership skills early to help raise and guide my eight younger siblings. I began working at the age of 16 to assist my family financially.  I also supervised and advised my siblings through both academic and personal matters. I supported them with their homework, attended conferences on my parent’s behalf, and guided them through college applications and decisions about their future academic and professional endeavors.
 Hue with students
I know many students I serve come from a similar background like mine, where parents are immigrants and may not speak English fluently. This naturally makes it difficult for the parents to support their children academically, due to language barriers. However, I want to show our students that with perseverance, hard work, dedication, and, of course, with the great Pittsburg staff, they can achieve and become anything they desire. 
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Pittsburg Unified School District for their endless support and dedication in helping me learn and continue to grow.  It is because of you that I am who I am today and for that I am grateful.

Johanna Estrada-Ballardo

Meet Johanna Estrada-Ballardo , PHS Graduate 11/8/2018

Johanna working
My name is Johanna Estrada-Ballardo and I am a Criminalist with the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab. I am a native of Pittsburg and attended Foothill Elementary, Central Junior High School, and lastly Pittsburg High School. After graduating from Pittsburg High School in 2002, I went on and received my Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Davis. I have been working at the Crime Lab since 2006 in both the Forensic Biology and Crime Scene Units.
My role as a Criminalist is exciting and each day is different from the next. I examine evidence for biological fluids, perform DNA analysis, and testify in court to my findings. I examine evidence in a variety of case types, ranging from property crimes to homicides. I also document crime scenes and collect evidence for potential future testing.
What I enjoy most about working in the county I was raised in, is that I get to work with so many other Pittsburg graduates who have gone on to work in Law Enforcement. Whether they are bringing evidence into the lab for analysis or working with them while processing a crime scene, it’s always a nice surprise to see a familiar face. Some of these faces were with me the day I decided I wanted to go into the Forensics field and have been nothing but supportive in my goals.

Johanna working

I always have a sense of pride when I tell people I am a product of Pittsburg. The diversity, the friends that turned into family, and the continuous support have shaped me into the person I am today. I only hope that I can inspire other future grads to pursue their dreams.
Johanna in lab

Mia Flores

Meet Mia Flores, Vice Principal, Los Medanos Elementary School 11/1/2018

Mia with student
Why Do You Have Pittsburg Pride?
Pittsburg Pride can come in many forms. For me, My Pittsburg Pride stems from being part of a diverse community that embraces the cultural melting pot Pittsburg is made of. Born and raised in Pittsburg attending Highlands Elementary, Hillview Junior High School, and Pittsburg High School, I can only speak from experience that Pittsburg has attributed to the many qualities that make me who I am today. Growing up in the City of Pittsburg I knew I wanted to give back to a community that gave so much to me. Education growing up was of importance to our family who not only grew up and resided in Pittsburg for generations but who also served the community to which they lived. From a great-grandfather who served as an officer for the Pittsburg Police Department, to a father who served and worked for the City of Pittsburg Recreation Department and contributed to the Development of the City of Pittsburg, I can say that Pittsburg Pride has been instilled in me all my life.

Why Did You Come Back to Pittsburg to be a Vice Principal? Why is Pittsburg Different from Other Communities?
Being able to start my career as a Social Studies/English/and Leadership Teacher at Hillview Junior High school, a school that I attended when I was a little girl was very special. It was then that I knew I had chosen a career that could not have been more fitting. Being nominated and receiving teacher of the year among colleagues, and being nominated as FSN 2007 Teacher of the Bay Area was an absolute honor, as I knew at best I represented Pittsburg Unified and my city that was known for Hard work, Determination, and Perseverance. Throughout my career, I have been afforded many opportunities that have made me a better teacher, a better administrator, and a lifelong learner. With 16 years in education serving Pittsburg Unified School District, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, and Oakley Union Elementary School District, the saying will always hold true in my heart that “There is No Place Like Home”. Pittsburg is home. It is a place I am proud to say I am from. It is a place that when people ask me “why did you come back home to Pittsburg?” I ask them... “Why Not?” I am a product of Pittsburg Unified School District and the community to which I serve and I am very proud of that.
What Do You Love Most About Your Job?
Having the opportunity to serve as Vice Principal of Los Medanos Elementary school is an absolute honor. Every day when I go to work I am excited. I love what I do and I love who I serve. It is an honor to co-facilitate a school and work with a team of teachers and for a district that I have the utmost respect for. From the hugs at recess, to the parent meetings, to the planning of Professional Development, to the teachers and staff of Team Los Medanos and the families and students that make up our school community, there is not a day that goes by where I remind myself how lucky I am to get to do what I do on a daily basis. I absolutely love my job and appreciate the opportunities I have been entrusted with to make a difference in my community.

Any Other Thoughts?
Pittsburg Pride is not just about claiming a city with victorious colors of orange and black. It is not just about chanting in a stadium the story of pirate territory. Pittsburg Pride is knowing that the harder you work for something, the greater you will feel when you achieve it because Pittsburg Pride is something that through humility and gratitude can be achieved and can be shared for generations to come.
Mia with colleagues

Officer Pena

Meet Officer Pena, Pittsburg Police Department 9/21/2018

Office Pena with students
My name is James Pena and I am currently the new School Resource Officer for Black Diamond High School and Pittsburg High School. I am excited for the 2018-2019 school year and getting to know the school staff and students.
Office Pena
My goal for this school year is to be a positive role model within the Pittsburg Unified School District and to help students succeed.
I enjoy talking sports and academics with the students because I was a collegiate athlete and can relate to the balancing of homework and practice.
Office Pena with principal
Let's have a great year and Go Pirates!

Officer Y. Smith

Meet Officer Y. Smith, Pittsburg Police Department 9/20/2018

Officer Smith with students
Officer Y. Smith is a native of the Bronx, New York. He attended Saint Mary’s College of California on a full basketball scholarship. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in communication, he played professional basketball in Australia for two seasons. Upon his return to the United States, he joined the Pittsburg Police Department in August of 2017. He says he has a passion for working with the youth and being a role model. Officer Smith is currently assigned as the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Martin Luther King Junior High School. His goal is to provide a positive influence on the scholars.
Officer Smith with principal
Officer Smith with students

Officer Brady

Meet Officer Brady, Pittsburg Police Department 9/12/2018

Officer Brady with staff member
My name is Officer Cory Brady. I have been working in law enforcement for seven years. Prior to working for the Pittsburg Police Department, I worked for the Antioch Police Department. Currently, I'm assigned as a School Resource Officer at Hillview JHS.
I enjoy working with our youth and coach soccer and wrestling. I have a Bachelors degree from Chico State University in Social Science, which I received in 1999. Before my career as a police officer, I was a school teacher for six years. I taught elementary school and middle school students. 
My motto is: "Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future and today is a gift, that is why it is called the present. Live for the moment and plan for the future."
Officer Brady

Officer Curran

Meet Officer Curran, Pittsburg Police Department 9/7/2018

Officer Curran
Officer Curran was born in Mexico City and immigrated to the United States at the age of nine. She is the oldest of five siblings. As a teenager, she was part of a Police Explorer program. In 2002, she graduated from Diablo Valley College (DVC) and began working for the Pittsburg Police Department. Currently, she is enrolled in California Coast University and is studying administration of justice.
Officer Curran is married and has four children. You will most likely see her at Rancho Medanos Junior High School where she is assigned as a School Resource Officer (SRO).
Officer Curran with fellow officer
Officer Curran in group

Officer Manly

Meet Officer Manly, Pittsburg Police Department 8/31/2018

Officer Manly
Officer Manly, a native of the City of Pittsburg, joined the Pittsburg Police Department in July of 2016, after receiving his Undergraduate degree in Sociology and Master's Degree in Leadership from Saint Mary's College.
Officer Manly has a history of family members who have worked for the Pittsburg Unified School District and would like to continue this tradition as a School Resource Officer and giving back to the community in which he grew up in and loves.
Officer Manly with admin
In his spare time, he loves to play recreational basketball and travel with friends. Officer Manly is currently assigned to Pittsburg High School and he hopes to make a difference in everyone he comes in contact with.
Officer Manly traveled with PUSD on a Sister City trip to Shimonoseki, Japan in August of 2018. He along with Superintendent Schulze, Principal Peyko, and five Pittsburg High School students were introduced to traditional Japanese culture and welcomed by the people of Shimonoseki.
Officer Manly with students

Meghan Jones

Meet Meghan Jones 8/24/2018

Growing up, Pittsburg has always had a special place in my heart. I was born and raised in Pittsburg and come from a long line of Pittsburg Unified School District educators. My grandmother taught with Pittsburg Unified for well over 20 years and my mother taught at Central Junior High School, leaving a legacy of love and passion for education in all of her scholars.  Watching two of the most important women in my life give their hearts and lives to Pittsburg was nothing less than a motivating force behind my academic years.
I attended Stoneman Elementary and Christian Center School until the 8th grade. I later graduated high school from Berean Christian High School in Walnut Creek.  Leaving my community for my high school years only strengthened the pride I had in my hometown. After graduating from Clark Atlanta University, I knew that I needed to come home and make a difference in the community that played a huge role in making me the adult that I am today. 

Teaching at Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School has been such an awesome and fulfilling experience. I have been able to learn from peers who have also decided to return to Pittsburg in order to serve their community. Most of all, I feel more connected than ever to my community and look forward to continuing to educate here while walking in the footsteps of those who worked to pave the way for me.
Meghan with colleague

Toni Torres

Meet Toni Torres 6/1/2018

Pride for Pittsburg:
My family moved to Pittsburg a month before I turned 6 years old in 1986. I went to Parkside Elementary, Hillview Junior High School, and Pittsburg High School. I participated in Pittsburg sports, such as PYC (Pittsburg Youth Cheerleading), Pony League Softball, and PHS Varsity Cheer. I also did well in school and was always on the honor roll or principal’s honor roll. I even graduated at the top of my class at PHS in 1998, which I credit to many of my teachers and striving to do well.
Pittsburg has been a part of my life for almost 32 years…my parents still live in the same house. Pittsburg has changed a lot over time with new schools, homes, downtown renovation, and so much more, but I feel it is still the town I grew up in. I still have pride every time I hear good things about Pittsburg, especially about our students, teachers, and staff...from seeing the news of the PHS band’s invite to Rome to a post I saw this morning on Facebook about the good deed PHS Leadership students and teachers did for a fellow student and Warrior fan to listening to so many wonderful Project Based Learning presentations at Rancho Medanos. It definitely makes me proud to be here.
Returning to Teach in Pittsburg:
Like so many other PUSD alumni teaching in Pittsburg, I wanted to return here to teach because I loved the community and I wanted to give back. I realized in my first year of college at Diablo Valley College (DVC) that I wanted to teach math. My goal was to start my career at PHS. I stayed at DVC and earned an AA in Liberal Arts, then transferred to San Francisco State University to earn my BA in Mathematics.  While there, I started volunteering in schools. My first placement was in Eileen Chen’s summer school class during her first year teaching. The following summer, I started working as a college assistant with the Summer Algebra Success Academy (lead by Eileen Chen and I continued working for the Summer Algebra Success Academy until I graduated college).  
I eventually continued my education at UC Berkeley to pursue my MA in Mathematics Education and my single subject credential. During my time there, two of my four teaching placements were at PUSD. I did my student teaching assignment at PHS, teaching Algebra Support (master teacher was Phil Lucido), and my observation assignment was at Hillview Jr High (with Pinder Jaggi). It was my time at Hillview that made me change my mind about going to PHS to teach…instead I wanted to start my career at Hillview.
I started my first year of teaching the fall after graduation from UC Berkeley (2006-2007). I taught 7th and 8th grade math for five years at Hillview, until I became a TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) (2011-2012). I was sad to leave the classroom, but understood my new position would support more students in the district than I could in my classroom. I was a Project Manager for our CaMSP grant for three years, which focused on professional development in math for 3rd - 8th grade teachers. Once the grant ended, I transitioned to be an Elementary Math Coach for two years.
One day, I decided to branch out and see what else was beyond Pittsburg because it was all I knew, so I left for the 2016-2017 school year. I recall Anthony Molina telling me, “I give you one year and you will be back.” He was right because I came back after that one year because I missed being at PUSD. I am now at Rancho Medanos Junior High School as an Instructional Coach and I also specialize in Math for the middle schools. My dad, Julian Torres Jr., even joined me in the district a few years ago and currently works in the Maintenance Department as a painter.  

Passionate About Teaching:
I am passionate about teaching because I believe every student can do well in school. I want students to see themselves as someone who is capable of learning and understanding. There is no better reward than seeing a student have an “a-ha” moment, tell you they finally understand something, see the pride they have in themselves for doing a good job, or see them persevere when something is not so easy. Having a good educational foundation leads to so many opportunities for students and that foundation starts for them here at PUSD.

Bobby Belleci

Meet Bobby Belleci 5/18/2018

Bobby Belleci is a video productions teacher at Pittsburg High School and Coach for Pittsburg High's Varsity Football Offensive Line.
Graduating from Pittsburg High School in 1999, I am the 4th generation of PHS graduates from my family. My wife, Tara, also graduated from PHS, and we look forward to our sons Bobby (6) and James (4) being the next in our family history to graduate from Pittsburg High.
As child, I attended day care and preschool at Martin Luther King before it became a Junior High School. I went on to attend Highlands Elementary and Hillview Junior High School. Many of my family members have worked or still work for Pittsburg Unified School District as administrators, coaches, teachers, and school board members. From 2010-2012, I also served on PUSD’s School Board.
I have always been very passionate about our Pittsburg community and giving back to it, which is what brought me back to Pittsburg High. I followed in my family’s footsteps and started coaching in 2001. I coached with Pittsburg Junior Football League for 4 years, serving 2 years as league president, before being hired in 2004 by Victor Galli, Pittsburg High School Football Coach.
Bobby with students
I always wanted to teach but ended up getting into the family business instead. For 15 years, I worked in the media industry in production, design, and print. When the opportunity to teach at Pittsburg High School arose, I jumped at it.
I look forward to spending many years at Pittsburg High School and continuing to have a positive impact on students, both in the classroom and on the football field.

Jess A. Reyes

Meet Jess A. Reyes 5/2/2018

Why I returned to teach in Pittsburg:
I joined PHS as the Digital Recording Studio teacher in September, 2017. Before PHS, I taught digital media production (audio, video and photography) for two years at Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo. I am excited to be teaching at PHS because I can now focus solely on teaching audio technology, which is my specialty.
My Background:
My family has lived in Pittsburg since the early-1950’s. My maternal grandfather, Apolio Eclips served in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Camp Stoneman. His wife, Josefa, and his four children: Ile, Fe, Paul and Rebecca, soon joined him from the Philippines. All four children graduated from PHS. I was raised in Pittsburg and attended Highlands Elementary, Hillview Jr. High and graduated from PHS with the Class of 1977. After graduation, I attended San José State University, where I earned B. A. and M. A. degrees in Music, specializing in Composition and Electronic Music. After college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a film composer. While in L. A., I was presented with an opportunity to work on a software product at Apple Computer. The software product ultimately became known as “QuickTime” and thus began my 25-year career in multimedia technology; 19 of which were spent working on every Apple product that made sound or involved music. I spent the last nine years of my tenure at Apple as Senior Project Manager of the music production software called “GarageBand”. Incidentally, I teach my digital recording studio classes using Apple iMac computers, and GarageBand is the software upon which much of the curriculum is based.
Passion for teaching:
Over the course of my tech career, I took great pride in developing highly effective teams. My passion for teaching comes from my family. One could say that education is the “family business”. My family has taught within the Pittsburg Unified School District for over 50 years. My father, Jess H. Reyes, taught Chemistry at PHS in the 1970’s, and served for many years as a member of the School Board. My mother, Ile Reyes, taught at El Pueblo, Village and Foothill; and would cap her career as the first principal of Stoneman Elementary. My sister, Jenny, taught 2nd grade at Willow Cove, Los Medanos and Stoneman, was a literacy coach at Foothill, and a VP at Parkside. My aunt Rebecca O’Rourke taught at Los Medanos and Highlands Elementary; where her daughter Kathy O’Rourke now also teaches. Kathy’s dad, Jim O’Rourke, taught at Hillview Jr. High and Central Jr. High. My aunt Fe Castillo had a long career at Highlands and her son, Edward Castillo, teaches at Black Diamond High School. While my job is to teach audio recording, I feel my most important job is to contribute to the future “employability” of my students; to help develop those traits that will make them valued employees.
Pittsburg Pride:
I feel fortunate to have spent my formative years in Pittsburg. I credit two lucky coincidences that occurred during my freshman year for permanently altering the course of my life: the first is the arrival of Mr. Orrin Cross to PHS in 1973, and the second was a “morning bulletin announcement” that the school was looking for a piano player for the fall musical theater production. I auditioned and became a pianist for the production. It was at that moment that I was hooked, and would spend most of the next four years roaming the halls of the Creative Arts Building, participating in all of the wonderful music classes and theatrical productions under Mr. Cross’ direction. Composing and performing music remains a large part of my life. I’m also proud of the education that I received here at PHS, and I wear that pride on my sleeve. I have had the good fortune to have professionally known and worked among some incredibly talented individuals, and when the subject of where we attended school comes up, I always proudly proclaim: “I GRADUATED FROM PITTSBURG HIGH SCHOOL”. I hope to instill this same pride in my own students today.

Daniela Hernandez

Meet Daniela Hernandez 4/20/2018

My name is Daniela Hernandez and I am currently a history teacher at Hillview Junior High. I was raised here in Pittsburg and attended Foothill Elementary, Central Jr. High, and Pittsburg High.
Having grown up here, I feel like you often hear that you should give back to your community. As time passed, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. My goal was always to come back home and be able to teach in Pittsburg.
Throughout my education, I was inspired to become a teacher through the teachers that I had. I remember going to Ms. Marshack’s classroom and being able to immerse myself in the rainforest in 2nd grade. Reading the novel, The House on Mango Street with Mr. Molina helped me make connections between the book and my life. Ms. Nam guided me when I wrote my personal statement for college applications. And, Mr. Butterfield, helped me learn to enjoy calculus!

After having these teachers in my life, I wanted to be like them and allow my students to really be part of their education and make connections between the material and themselves. I love being able to have conversations with my students about what they can look forward to when they get to the high school, like participating in clubs, sports, and of course, the Pittsburg High School Marching Show Band! 
I am proud to say that Pittsburg is a community filled with diversity and it is great to be able to give back to the community that I grew up in. I hope that I can inspire my students the way my teachers inspired me.

Adrienne-Rae Garcia

Meet Adrienne-Rae Garcia 4/6/2018

My name is Adrienne Garcia. I am in my second year of teaching first grade at Heights Elementary school. I have been a Pittsburg native for the majority of my life. I moved to Pittsburg with my family in 2001, when I was a 5th grader. I attended school at Stoneman Elementary, Central Jr. High, and I graduated in 2009 at Pittsburg High. I am so grateful to be able to call this city my home. Though I have not lived here my entire life, I’ve grown up here and I feel that I have invested so much love and work into this community that I feel it is my hometown.

Before transferring to UC Davis, I spent 2 years attending Los Medanos College where I found my passion for teaching and shaping young minds. A huge reason I pursued a career in this field was because I was inspired by a professor I had while taking a child development class for one of my general ed requirements. Professor Townsend at LMC, made me reflect on the teachers I had growing up and she pushed our class to discover what kind of learning shapes a child’s being. This was the little spark that started my love for education. I got to reflect on all the amazing teachers I had in this community and then I began working at the Child Study Center at LMC and found myself working with kids since then.
After college, I moved back to Pittsburg to help take care of my father and decided to get into contact with my former Puente teacher, Mr. Molina who then helped me become a volunteer at Heights. As soon I as began observing and helping out with the first grade team, I knew that I wanted to teach first grade. I was able to help students with reading and I realized how important literacy was with the younger grades and how amazing it was to witness the “A-ha” moments when students would confidently read a word. Being around this school and district reminded me of how I felt when I was a student here and how I wanted to give back and be there to support this wonderfully diverse community.

Stephanie Anderson

Meet Stephanie Anderson 3/27/2018

Stephanie Anderson comes from a family of six, with her being the eldest of four children. She is engaged to be married to a wonderful man in the summer of 2018. Her family came to Pittsburg when she was in the middle of fourth grade. She attended Foothill Elementary, Central Junior High and graduated from Pittsburg High School in 2005. She fell in love with the area as she was involved in the band "The Pride of Pittsburg" where she played the flute. She was also involved in the theater program where she came out of her shell and was able to blossom through her acting. She has always felt that Pittsburg is truly a community that cares about its people and she loves to have a family bigger than her own.
After she graduated from California State East Bay, she moved to Thailand where she taught ESL for 5 years. When she returned to California, she wanted to come back to her roots and be a part of the family atmosphere that was missing in her career overseas. She substituted for a while in another district and when she saw an opening in Pittsburg she saw that as her chance to give back to the community that gave her so much support as a young girl. She has been teaching third grade at Willow Cove for the last two years and has enjoyed being a part of the family of Pittsburg and educating their amazing children.
She has always said that if she could not ever teach again she would not know what to do in life. She is one of those rare people that from a young age, know what they want to be when they grow up and have never changed their mind. From the age of six, she knew that she wanted to be in the classroom teaching and inspiring young minds. As a child, she would line up her stuffed animals and read with them as well as make her siblings sit at desks and teach them with a chalkboard. She has always been a teacher and will always be a teacher at heart. When she sees children's faces light up when then finally get it or the progress they are making and how awesome it makes them feel it provides instant satisfaction and happiness.

Heidi Souders

Meet Heidi Souders 3/16/2018

Mrs. Heidi Souders is a mother of two children, a Sunday school teacher, and a graduate of Pittsburg High School (1997). Her family moved to Pittsburg when she was in 3rd grade. She attended Heights Elementary School, Hillview Junior High School, and graduated from PHS in 1997. There’s also a “band connection” she has in common with many other folks in Pittsburg. Playing an instrument wasn’t her thing, but she was active in theater and became a Band Manager in high school. Plus, it was the band connection that led her to her husband, Dustin. The teen romance began when she spotted a new face at band practice. He was friends with kids in the band and one of them brought him to band practice. The two started spending time together and the rest is history. They married in Pittsburg when Heidi was 19. The couple has been together for twenty-three years. By the way, her husband was also born and raised in Pittsburg, in case you were wondering!

Heidi Souders has worked for Pittsburg Unified School District for more than twelve years. Currently, she is the District Secretary for the Student Services Department. She started as a substitute clerk in department and worked her way up into her current role. Mrs. Souders is on the frontlines for parent complaints, runs the home hospital program for the District, handles student records, school transfers, and supports her supervisor, Dr. ReJois Fraiser-Myers, Director of Student Services. Heidi says this position fits her personality well because she likes being behind-the-scenes and has a low-key personality that is adept to handling a variety of personalities and difficult situations. But, she claims the best thing about her job are the success stories. She loves helping kids out and wants to see students graduate. “If there’s one thing I can do for a child, it is give them encouragement or words of wisdom before they leave my office,” said Souders. “I want to make a difference in kids’ lives.” She also mentioned it is the positive stories that keep her coming to work each day and the best part is when students come back and say, “You helped me.”

When you ask Heidi about Pittsburg Pride, Heidi will tell you her son graduated from Pittsburg High and her other son attends Foothill Elementary School. She’s very active in the school community, attends football games, volunteers at events, and helps support the Student Services team. Her focus is on parent engagement and she definitely has a soft spot for comforting parents when they receive news they were not expecting. She says she hears, “I had no idea this was happening with my child” a lot. It is her job to help provide resources for parents and help them get more engaged with their child’s school. She says she loves her job and that “there’s no typical day” in the Student Services department. She’s the go-to person of the department and co-workers often say, “Call Heidi, she will know the answer to that question.” She’s very modest, but you can tell she has pride in her work and loves helping her team with trainings, meeting preparation, student records, and as she says, “making sure things function well.”

Cuauhtemoc Mixcoatl-Martinez

Meet Cuauhtemoc Mixcoatl-Martinez 3/2/2018

My name is Cuauhtemoc Mixcoatl-Martinez, and this is my second year as a teacher in Pittsburg Unified, at Rancho Medanos Jr. High School. Our staff, from administrators and teachers to classified staff, are without a doubt dedicated to the growth and success of our scholars and work tirelessly to foster a great community of learning. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to teach around the world, in Korea, Russia, and Peru, and finally back to Pittsburg, where I grew up. As a proud Class of ‘04 graduate of PHS, this has made my time at Rancho truly special.
Although Pittsburg has changed a lot over the years, it remains a close knit community that embraces its diversity and is rich in cultural wealth. This was apparent, even as a kindergartener, when I was at Village elementary. One of the highlights of the year was going to the Indian Trailer, a trailer filled with Native American regalia, photos, and videos. The teacher brought all of these to life, and something that we’d look forward to every year.  I’ll never forget the first time when our class made Dream Catchers, played with rainticks, or when one of my classmates got a porcupine needle stuck in his ankle. Needless to say, it was an experience that I’m sure everyone who had the opportunity to experience will always cherish.

Michael “Mickey” Rones

Meet Michael “Mickey” Rones, Preschool Special Education Teacher at Highlands Elementary 2/15/2018

My Pittsburg Pride begins centuries before me. I am a 3rd generation Pittsburg High Graduate and PUSD employee. My grandmother graduated in 1959 and worked for the school district for many years as a resource aide. My parents both graduated in the late 70’s. My Mom returned to the district as a school bus driver. Growing up in Pittsburg provided me with an amazing childhood.
There is a sense of community and belonging in a town that holds over a hundred years of my family history. From my great-grandmother working in the Pittsburg cannery, to my family's 5th generation attending PUSD schools, my Pittsburg roots run deep. A lot has changed in the town from the time my great-grandparents were growing up, but one thing that has remained a constant is the melting pot of diversity and culture. Pittsburg not only welcomes differences but embraces it. I remember as a child always going to City Park to watch my grandparents and parents play ball. My siblings and I couldn’t wait to meet up with all the other City Park kids, to simply enjoy our youth. It didn’t matter what color, race, or, religion you were. This town was our home and the community became our family.

I started my early education at Stoneman Elementary then was promoted to Central Junior High, before my time at Pittsburg High. After graduating in 2005, I attended Los Medanos Community College to study Child Development. I was fortunate enough to work in the Child Development Center before transferring to Chico State where I graduated with a BA in Early Child Development.
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher but my love for children with special needs began during one of my observation courses at Chico State's Autism Clinic. We had a particular student who was nonverbal and did not like any physical contact. On one of my last days at the clinic she came up to me and hugged me. In that moment, I knew my purpose in life was to be an advocate for children who do not always have a voice or the proper tools to communicate. Early intervention is so important, and I truly feel blessed to be given the opportunity to make an impact when it really matters most. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support I have received from my family and fellow colleagues. I look forward to assisting in the cultivation of Pittsburg’s future generation.

Erika So

Meet Erika So, Science Teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School 2/2/2018

Growing up, I remember being in my first play at Foothill Elementary, growing a garden at Stoneman, falling in love with jazz at Central Junior High, and marching my heart out at the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City with the Pittsburg High School Pirate Marching Show Band. After graduating from Pitt, I studied Environmental Science, Education, and Entomology (the study of insects!) at UC Berkeley, while continuing music with the Cal Band. GO BEARS!

During my studies, I discovered that many of our environmental issues are not well understood by the public. While I initially wanted to become an entomologist and discover new insect species, I realized that I could have a bigger impact in helping the world by going into the classroom. Now, I share my passion for insects and the environment to spread empathy across our community in hopes that my scholars will show compassion towards the people and ecosystems around them.

As a product of the Pittsburg Unified School District, I can say one of my favorite things about our community is our diversity. We all come from a variety of backgrounds, different in every way imaginable. We find each others’ strengths and work together to become the best versions of ourselves. A huge celebration of this is at the MultiCultural Assembly at the CAB at Pitt High. I'm also proud that our diversity is embraced with the District's Wellness Committee, as we provide social gatherings to build community through healthy living.
I love working at Martin Luther King, Jr. Junior High School because our Tiger Team radiates excitement! My fellow teachers and staff are all amazing people that share their personal passions with our scholars through their classes and clubs. I’m able to extend my enthusiasm for sustainability with the Environmental Club, my thirst for the outdoors by hiking with the Adventure Club, and exploring curiosities during our STEAM Festival. Beyond the typical school day and activities, I’m always delighted.

Linda Pineda

Meet Linda Pineda, PUSD Early Literacy Coach 12/13/2017

Ms. Pineda has worked for Pittsburg Unified School District for thirty-one years. When asked how she became an Early Literacy Coach, she said, “I fell into it by accident in 2009.” Her response made me curious. But, I soon understood her journey was much more than an accident.

Linda began her teaching career in 1979 in a little town outside of Bakersfield, CA. After two years, she was burned out and decided to leave the classroom. After swearing she’d never go back, a relocation to the Bay Area made her change her mind. In 1986, she had a craving to be back in the classroom and started substitute teaching in Pittsburg. Her time as a substitute opened the door for a full-time teaching position within three months at Pittsburg Unified. She claimed Pittsburg is unique and she’s never looked back, “Not a day I didn’t want to be here,” is what she told me.
Like many people I’ve interviewed, Linda says she loves the diversity of the Pittsburg community, the closeness of the community, and says it feels good being here. She taught mostly 5th grade at Foothill Elementary (1986-1990) and at Stoneman Elementary School (1990 – 2009). However, one thing kept frustrating her in the classroom…reading. She says she kept seeing 5th graders that couldn’t read.

In 2009, her principal at the time recognized a hidden talent of Linda’s and asked if she would become an Early Literacy Coach for Stoneman Elementary and focus on using Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills “DIBELS” (a set of measures for assessing early literacy) for the upper grades. “Just try it out for one year,” she was told. At first she said, “No….”, but her arm was twisted and she jumped out of the classroom and into the new role. It was a blessing in disguise because Linda says she was hooked after just one year in her position. “When I was a teacher, I could only help thirty-four kids,” said Pineda. “Now, I can help change the outcome for all kids. If we build the foundation correctly, we can change kids’ lives.” The first year focused on assessing students and reporting. The second year in her role, she had a new principal, Shelley Velasco, who paid close attention to Linda and her reading focus. In 2011, Mrs. Velasco saw firsthand the changes happening with students because of Ms. Pineda, the use of DIBELS, and of course, the teachers. Test scores indicated reading rates for the school were increasing!

Using DIBELS was helping Linda make a difference in reading scores of students at Stoneman Elementary School because DIBELS uncovered what focus areas children needed to succeed in reading. Individualized plans are created for each student struggling with reading, filling gaps in a student’s reading foundation and targeting specific needs. Tools and resources are available for the students, teachers, and parents to help children improve and build confidence in reading. The use of DIBELS not only helps determine what interventions are needed for reading, it also helps Linda predict future reading test scores. Therefore, her student plan doesn’t just focus on the “now,” it focuses on the future. Interventions are put in place to change the outcome of predictions. In 2013, Ms. Pineda was sent to DIBELS training, preparing her to become the District Trainer/Mentor, supporting Literacy Coaches throughout PUSD. In the 2015/2016 school year, Early Literacy became a key focus for Pittsburg Unified School District and Literacy Coaches were hired at elementary schools. In the 2016/2017 school year, PUSD made a commitment to make full-time Literacy Coaches a priority at all of the elementary schools. Currently, Linda is a coach at Stoneman Elementary and is also the District’s Literacy Mentor.
Linda with a student

Fruits of Linda’s labor are now spreading throughout Pittsburg Unified School District. She loves her team and says they meet once a week for a two-hour meeting where they discuss data, plans, problem solving, equity, new ideas, and support each other. At each elementary school site, Early Literacy Coaches assess students, provide demonstration lessons, resources, instructional strategies, and professional development for teachers. They focus on universal access, data interpretation, overview of DIBELS, fluency and comprehension, new teachers, and afterschool help for students. The vision of the Early Literacy focus is to move children up the ladder in improving their reading skills. “Every child matters,” said Linda. “We have to do our best for each one. We owe it to them. That’s why we are here. It is an investment in our community.”

I asked Linda if she had any success stories to share and she immediately said “Derrick” (name changed to protect identity of the child). Derrick struggled to read in kindergarten and 1st grade. He left 1st grade as a non-reader and in the beginning of 2nd grade he was reading about twelve words per minute. With the help of Ms. Pineda working with the teachers to set up and implement interventions, monitoring his progress, and adjusting interventions as needed, Derrick left 2nd grade reading sixty words per minute. In 3rd grade, he became an avid reader and his comprehension improved dramatically. He is now at eighty words per minute and is above his reading cut-point. Linda says his results are not uncommon. She sees this over and over again.  Linda points out though, that she is just the coach, and it is the dedication of the teachers that makes the difference. Her most favorite part of her job happens during a certain moment a child develops confidence. “You can see it in a child’s eye when things click,” she said. “Sometimes they even surprise themselves when they sit down and read effortlessly.”

At the end of our interview, I asked if Ms. Pineda had any reading advice for parents. Here are four things she mentioned: read to your kids, encourage your child to read early, talk to his or her teacher; stay on top of things, and figure out what your kids like to read. She says she didn’t realize her love for non-fiction until college. Fiction never really floated her boat, but once she started reading non-fiction she couldn’t get enough. “Figure out your child’s favorite genre and what makes reading come alive for them,” said Linda.

Joe Sanchez

Meet Joe Sanchez 11/3/2017

Joe Sanchez is another OG in Pittsburg (OG stands for “original”). He was born and raised in the small community of West Pittsburg and has been working for Pittsburg Unified School District for nearly 30 years. Yes, I just said “West Pittsburg.” I had to be schooled on where West Pittsburg was located as I’m not an OG like Joe. He told me West Pittsburg was renamed Bay Point. My curiosity took me to Wikipedia where I learned Bay Point has the same zip code as the District Office, which is 94565. I’m sure there’s more to the story of West Pittsburg and Bay Point, but let’s get back to Joe.
Looking at Joe, it was hard for me to believe he’s worked for PUSD for 30 years. He sure doesn’t look old enough to have 30 years on his career belt, but I’m not going to Human Resources to investigate. I’m sure his co-workers are enough to vouch for him! All kidding aside, Joe graduated from Pacific High School in 1975. Again, I told him I hadn’t heard of Pacifica High School and he replied, “It closed in 1976.”
After graduation, Joe attended Los Medanos College for two years and worked at the Steel Mill, but the layoffs he experienced made him look for a job that was more stable. In 1987, Joe was hired as a custodian at Pittsburg High School and mainly worked in the gyms. He remembers fondly working with Ms. Mattson and working around high school students who referred to him as, “Papa Joe” (That made me chuckle). In 1998, Joe changed jobs and became part of the Grounds Crew. What does that entail? He began rattling off, “groundskeeper, equipment operator, lawn mower, water break fixer, football fields maintenance, sprinkler systems expert, herbicides technician, tree trimmer, weed controller, roof gutter cleaner, and many other duties that fall under “other duties as assigned.” 
From 1998 until now, he’s stayed part of the Grounds Crew which consists of Luis, Sal, Rich, Mike, Janice, and Joe. They usually team up into groups of three to get all their duties done each day at sites throughout the District. Four days a week, you will likely see Joe on a mower at one of the schools because he mows lawns at ALL of our schools. The younger kids are his favorite because they still get a kick out of lawn mowers (just like dump trucks, mail trucks, and UPS trucks), so he waves at them if he sees a little one who’s interested in his machinery. Thirty years at PUSD and he claims he still enjoys what he does each day and he loves being around people.
When asked why he has pride for his job, it is compliments that keep him going. “What’s really neat is when a parent or administrator says, ‘That lawn looks great.’ Makes you want to do more. I take pride in my work because that’s what I was taught to do,” said Joe. Kudos also go to Mike Rodriquez and Joe exclaimed, “He has taught me a lot!” The team work involved with his job is what makes him come to work each day and he says communication makes everything a lot easier. However, Mike does have to communicate with Joe about vacation time…because Joe says he forgets to take his vacation time! (When he told me that, I did laugh out loud). 
When Joe isn’t at work, he visits car shows, the downtown, community functions, music, and bocce ball at Buchannan Park. He was once part of the “chain gang” on Friday nights too. I wasn’t familiar with the “chain gang” in Pittsburg. But, he explained that four people help measure yards at home football games. For seven years, he spent Friday nights on the football field for home games before moving on to other interests. Additionally, for the last fourteen years, he’s also been active in his union, California School Employees Association, Chapter 44.
Even though he’s no longer on the football field, Joe said Pittsburg High School football and the Marching Show Band give him Pittsburg pride. He feels the City of Pittsburg has made a “complete turnaround” and he likes the small town feel of the community

Jeanette Navarro

Meet Jeanette Navarro 9/1/2017

Jeanette Navarro’s face lights up when you ask her about her Pittsburg Pride. As soon as we sat down together for this interview, she told me her daughter was a cheerleader at Pittsburg High, her oldest son played football for the PHS pirates, and her middle son performed in the Nutcracker at the Creative Arts Building. She loves the arts, community events, and still attends Friday night football games once in a while, even though her children are now grown. Jeanette grew up in Pittsburg, attended PUSD schools, and graduated from Pittsburg High. She has never left Pittsburg and doesn’t have any plans to leave.

Navarro’s career at Pittsburg Unified School District began in 1998 when she took a position in the Pittsburg High School Cafeteria where she worked for 10 years! When asked about her duties at Pitt High, she told me about the snack bar she ran out of a classroom window and how she organized everything in a very particular way. Running a snack bar out of a window wasn’t easy. With the help of student volunteers, they were able to coordinate an extremely - successful operation that kept her on her toes!
Jeanette and parent
She smiled as she told me about the snack bar days, the hard work, and the satisfaction she had for her sales numbers (she had great numbers!). But, Jeanette isn’t an employee that “just does her job” or just focuses on results. She’s a people person and really cares about her students. She truly enjoys being around kids and hugs her former Pittsburg High students when she sees them around town.
After spending a couple of years in Willow Cove’s Cafeteria (2008-2010), Jeanette made a career change and transferred into the PUSD Maintenance department where she is now a custodian at Hillview Junior High School. She tells her Hillview students not to be afraid to ask her for help with their locker combination, considering lockers can be tricky. Her hallway at Hillview is fondly regarded as the “Princess Hallway” among staff members in that she makes it sparkle! Much pride goes into making it the first impression people have of the school. She laughed as she told me a School Board member recently visited and referred to her hallway as the “Princess Hallway.” Her motto, “It’s like your house, you want the front of the house to look polished and clean,” must be paying off because word is getting around about her hallway! Navarro’s hard work is noticed; she was Employee of the Year in the 2015/2016 school year and still keeps her work ethic in check on a daily basis.

Each morning, as soon as she hits the front door, she makes a point to smile and truly believes, “A smile goes a long way.” Navarro lovingly refers to the staff at Hillview as her second family and says she plans to stay at Hillview until she retires. Although, she now has a granddaughter at Stoneman Elementary School, so you might see her roaming the halls every now and then at Stoneman…

Robyn Owens

Meet Robyn Owens 8/9/2017

Robyn and team
The question was given to me, do you have Pittsburg Pride? My response was, “absolutely and now let me tell you how my journey began.”
I moved to Pittsburg in 1978 and attended Pittsburg schools from pre-K through high school. First, I attended Martin Luther King Jr. Preschool. Then, I went on to Highlands Elementary. Central Jr. High is where I spent my junior high school years. In 1994, I graduated from Pittsburg High School and soon after enrolled in Los Medanos Community College (LMC).

As I was attending LMC, I needed a part-time job and was told about a position with Pittsburg Unified School District. My first thought was WOW! I get to work with children, how awesome is that? At that time, the transportation department was hiring bus attendants, and I thought, why not give it a try? During the time I was a bus attendant, oh boy, I worked with a wide range of children, mainly children with special needs. My heart was in it and I enjoyed it. I told my parents, “I am going to keep my Job with Pittsburg Unified School District.”
During my time as a bus attendant, Marianne Solis came to me and said, “How would you like to become a bus driver?” My first thought was, “Oh no, there’s no way I can drive a 40 foot vehicle!” But, lo and behold, there I was three months later with a license to drive a school bus! At the time, I was only 18 years old and here I am now, still working in the transportation department. For 21 years, I have been working for PUSD. During my 18 years as a bus driver, I enjoy driving around Pittsburg and getting to know a lot of students and families. Yes, I do call the Pittsburg students “my students.” I get so excited when see former and current students while attending the Friday night football games (Go Pirates!), Off the Grid, and the Seafood Festival. It is pure joy to see them run up to me and say, “Hi Ms. Robyn” and give me a hug. It truly shows me that I have impacted their life.

Robyn and group
In 2015, I received my School Bus Driver Instructor certification from the California Department of Education. I really enjoy training others on how to drive school buses.  Given the opportunity to attend the bus trainer academy, I promised myself I would continue to ensure the safety and security of students in Pittsburg.
My two children currently attend schools in Pittsburg and I’m proud to be a parent volunteer. Additionally, I am so happy to have the opportunity to continue my career at Pittsburg Unified School District, and I’m proud of my city, Pittsburg!

Christina Holt

Meet Christina Holt 8/17/2017

My Pittsburg Pride began as young as kindergarten! I spent my K – 5 years at Village Elementary School. Village has since been replaced by Willow Cove Elementary. After Village, I moved on to Central Jr. High. Joe Arenivar may be a School Board member now, but back in the mid-80’s he was my vice Principal and Hillview’s Principal Heidi Leber and I were in Leadership together! Like most people in our community I spent my last 4 years in K-12 at Pitt High. Anthony Molina may have been two years my junior during high school, but I remember him well alongside fellow cheerleader Michael Haase, a teacher at Highlands.
Christina with students
When it came time for my children to go to school here I knew I wanted to do everything I could to make a positive impact in our district, both for their sake and the community’s. The wonderful staff at Willow Cove Elementary encouraged me to apply for an open Parent Coordinator position-a perfect fit for me, as I had been an active parent volunteer at the school for years. I worked at Willow Cove for about four years before moving on to Central Jr. High as an Attendance Clerk. After Central closed, I moved back to Willow Cove for a year before making my way to Rancho Medanos Jr. High where I currently serve as the Principal’s Secretary.
Christina with colleagues
I am in love with my community. My position means so much more than moving documents around on a desk. The students in our district have my heart. I am always so taken aback when they want to sit in my office and spend their lunch time with me or stop in to say hello. They are just so giving and they make me smile. I see every exchange as an opportunity to help mold these children into caring adults who will be able to take care of our community when I am no longer able to do so. Their parents, grandparents and guardians have also been extremely kind and generous to me, many of whom, have become close friends of mine.
My next milestone is to work at the High School. I want to be able to say that I’ve worked at every school that I’ve attended-but that comes later. There is so much more that I have to accomplish at the Jr. High level.
To this day I live in Pittsburg with my husband, Eric. We have three beautiful children: Our oldest son Eric is a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps; our daughter Summer completed her degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences at Los Medanos College; and our youngest son Nick is entering his third year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
It’s not uncommon to see me at the town car shows, Off the Grid or other community events. More importantly, I continue to cheer for our district’s kids on Friday nights at Pirate stadium, and I always keep an eye out for our college athletes by attending their games when possible.

Being raised, living and working in Pittsburg continues to be an incredibly rewarding experience. I can’t imagine growing up in a more wonderful community, and I plan to live here and support our children for many years to come.
Christina with student

Joanna Aragon

Meet Joanna Aragon 7/14/2017

Joanna and colleague
I became a School Counselor because I love kids.  Yes, they can drive me crazy at times, but they make me laugh, make me cry, make me think, and more.  And the thing that motivates me more than anything in this incredible career is helping my students see a glimpse of their future and helping them see that the choices that they make today can either open or close doors to opportunities later.  I want to make sure those doors stay open and every student in our school district is equipped with the tools they need to open every door.  And I want them to become as excited as I am for what their lives can become!
I have been a School Counselor in the Pittsburg Unified School District for the past 28 years.  It's really hard to believe it's been that long!  I began as a Counselor and Quest instructor at Foothill Elementary in 1989 and worked there for 17 years.  In 2006 I had the opportunity to move to Hillview Junior High and I have been at Hillview ever since.  One of the great gifts I received when I came to Hillview was the opportunity to become part of a team.  Over the years I've become parts of several dynamic teams:  the Hillview team (of course!), the PUSD Secondary Counselor Team (love them!) and, most recently, the California Association of School Counselors Board of Directors.  This last team is very new to me as I began my two-year term on July 1st and will be the Central California representative on the board.  The California Association of School Counselors (CASC) is an organization that works to promote the profession of School Counseling within our state and is also strongly affiliated with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).  For the past six or seven years School Counselors from our district have attended the CASC conference in Southern California to attend professional development workshops and hone our skills, to network with other School Counselors in the state, to build our PUSD School Counseling team, and to be inspired by experts in the field:  Trish Hatch, Delaine Easton....we even saw a video of the ASCA conference where Michelle Obama gave the keynote address and promoted her Reach Higher Initiative. 

Joanna and student
The School Counselors in the Pittsburg Unified School District are an incredibly motivated group of professionals.  We have been working hard and have almost completed the Comprehensive School Counseling Plan for our district.  We have created an 8th grade transition curriculum that is taught at all three junior highs to make sure that our 8th graders are as prepared as possible to enter high school.  Yes.....I hope if you ask anyone of the Class of 2020 or 2021 about the a-g requirements and why they are important they will look you straight in the eye and tell you!  And we culminate the lessons with a big rally at Pittsburg High School where, for the first time EVER, the entire class comes together. 

As ASCA states, the question shouldn't be "What do School Counselors do?"  Rather, the question should be "How are students different because of their School Counselor?"  To help answer this question, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) created the ASCA National Model, which is a framework for a comprehensive, data-driven school counseling program.  PUSD School Counselors have committed to following the ASCA National Model.   I'm so proud to be a small part of that!
In conclusion, I want to share that I am a proud citizen of the city of Pittsburg.  I am married to my amazing husband, Tom, and my daughter, Alyssa, is beginning her Senior Year at Pittsburg High School where she is in the Pittsburg High School Marching Show Band and is very active in the Leadership class.  My step-son, Christian, graduated from Emerson College in 2015 and works as a production assistant for the Dr. Phil show in Southern California.
Joanna and colleague

Steve Ahonen

Meet Steve Ahonen 7/3/2017

Steve with school bus
My journey with Pittsburg Pride began as a student teacher in Mrs. Janice Fornwald’s third grade class at Highlands Elementary during the 1980/81 school year. I could not have started in a better place. Not only was Mrs. Fornwald an excellent mentor teacher, she passed along all of her stories about growing up in Pittsburg. She was a lifelong resident and her father opened one of the very first stores in town in the early 1900’s. Her husband, Mr. Clarence Fornwald was the one of the very first band teachers at Pittsburg High School. My indoctrination into the community of Pittsburg had begun.
I was hired as a third grade teacher the very next year by the principal at Highlands, Bernie Krieg. It was from Mr. Krieg that I got some of the best advice I have ever received. He said, “When you make a mistake, (and you will make lots of them), make it on behalf of the child every time.” He was absolutely correct about my making countless mistakes along the way. But one of the things that I have learned about the kids in our community is that when they know you respect and care about them, they are very forgiving and they are very resilient. Our kids are smart, passionate and they are incredibly talented. They want desperately to be successful. When they are loved, supported and encouraged, they are capable of almost anything. They will give you everything that they have.
For the next 18 years, I continued teaching at Highlands Elementary. At the same time, I served as the head freshman football coach at Pittsburg High for 12 seasons. When you talk about pride in Pittsburg, Friday nights are the personification of what it means to be a Pirate. Young and old alike are wearing their orange and black and cheering on the latest version of the Pirate football team. In the bleachers, you can hear the ‘56, ‘67 or ‘72 graduates talking about their experiences playing for the Pittsburg High Pirates like it was yesterday. At halftime, our Marching Show Band reminds everyone in the stadium why they are called the “Pride of Pittsburg”. Opposing team fans comment all the time that they love coming to Pittsburg because they know they will be treated to a great game and an incredible halftime show in one of the finest venues in the state.
After leaving the classroom, I have served PUSD as an administrator. I have been an elementary vice principal (1999/2000), an assistant principal at the high school (2000/01), principal at Pittsburg High (2001/04), principal at Highlands Elementary (2004/10) and finally in my current position as Coordinator of Special Projects (2010/present). In my current assignment, I oversee the Early Childhood Education program and Independent Studies. I coordinate our district textbook adoptions and our emergency response programs. But I think the most important job I have in my travels around the district is to tell others the stories about where we have come from and how we have gotten here.

I am in awe at some of the remarkable things that many of my former students have accomplished in life. I have had the privilege of teaching, coaching or being the administrator of teachers, published authors, professional athletes, attorneys, barbers, nurses, construction workers, stay at home moms, bank tellers and just recently the newest principal at Hillview Junior High. I am very proud indeed that I have had the opportunity to play even a small part in their success.
This summer my wife, Laurey and I are celebrating 40 years of marriage. She, along with our three children (and now our six grandchildren) have had to listen to my stories of Pittsburg for the past 37 years. They have sacrificed a lot over the years so that I could work in the best place I know.

Mike Rodriquez

Meet Mike Rodriquez 5/24/2017

Mike Rodriquez was born and raised in Pittsburg, California. He graduated in 1970 and still meets up with high school friends once a month at the Country Skillet where they share stories about football, Westside Story, the Car Show, family, and memories of school days. He says he grew up in a time where everybody loved everybody…and they really cared about each other. The bonds he made in high school have carried him through his adult life and he claims, “Pitt Pride is always going to be in my heart.”
Mike’s Dad, “Johnny Rod,” was a pipefitter by trade and worked at the Steel Mill throughout his 30+ year career, instilling a strong work ethic and family focused attitude into his son. These attributes along with a giving heart are characteristics Mike remembers fondly as he talks about the influence his father has had on his life. Family comes first and that’s what has kept Rodriquez at Pittsburg Unified School District for more than 45 years. In 1972 Mike was hired in the maintenance department and quickly worked his way up from custodian at Parkside Elementary to horticulturalist at Heights Elementary to Supervisor of the Maintenance Department…all in a span of about four years! The lure of a higher paying job at the Steel Mill tugged him away for about three years; however, after being laid off and experiencing the feeling of job instability while trying to provide for a young family, he returned to PUSD in 1981. Coming back was less money and he had to start at the bottom again, working as a custodian at Hillview Junior High School…but it was a stable job and that’s what he needed for his family.
Mike with colleagues
Over the years, Mike has worked in just about every job in the maintenance department, making him a very well-rounded, knowledgeable, and dependable employee. In 1995, he was promoted to Assistant Director of Maintenance, which is still his current position today. He’s witnessed a lot of change over the years with modernization projects, technology changes, and has witnessing numerous staffing changes over the years; however, he feels the hardest part of his 45 year career is hearing about colleagues that have passed away. He truly cares about the people he works with and treats them like family.
Four children, three grandchildren, and a beloved wife are the delight of his life. He’s proud as he talks about the provider he’s always strived to be, wanting the best for his kids. His 16-year-old is in high school and he smiles as he mentions that she always kisses him goodnight telling him, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Dad.” Mike will be 65 in September, but he gets emotional when you mention the “R” word. He ended our interview by saying, “I start looking back…and I know it is time but I’ve put my heart here. The school district has been my life.” In fact, he won’t commit to saying when he’s going to retire, but he’s getting around to thinking about it.

Jessica Garay

Meet Jessica Garay 5/10/2017

Pittsburg Pride for me began when my father met my mother during their high school years and graduated from Pittsburg High School. A few years later, I was born and attended PUSD schools during my elementary years.  My parents have been long-time employees of Pittsburg Unified School District, in fact, both recently retired from the District.  My mother retired after 35 years of service! 

After graduating from Loma Linda University, the family tradition continued with me, Jessica Garay, returning to teach in Pittsburg, at Black Diamond High School.  I teach Medical Terminology, inspiring today’s youth to enter into healthcare professions.  As a Healthcare Professional and an Educator, my passion for inspiring today’s youth in healthcare professions led me to educate students on their academic goals, to recognize their academic potential and develop their skills in the healthcare field. However, my passion for teaching and my Pittsburg Pride has a deeper significance for me, because I am following in my parents’ footsteps, dedicating my career to public education…just like they have.
Recently, Black Diamond High School and Pittsburg High School participated in a CareerLINK, a career fair held at Pittsburg High School.
Jessica with colleagues
Students had the opportunity to meet with various representatives from different industry sectors.  My nephew is a Marine and served as a career representative at the event with other military branches. (Can you tell my family is full of Pittsburg Pride?) As I chaperoned this event, it was evident the interest many students had on the different career options represented.   I take pride in helping students discover what they are interested in and the opportunities they have available.
Besides striving to inspire teenagers academically, I work alongside Black Diamond teachers and staff in supporting our students to make healthy choices in life. I would also like to thank my dear friend, Dr. Marcus Lorenzo Penn for his Self-Care Reform Wellness organization encouraging, empowering, and enlightening community members to consider preventative care with his stress reduction techniques.  In 2016, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign, along with the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association recognized Black Diamond High School as a Silver recipient of the Healthy Schools Program for the 2016-2017 school year in Washington D.C.  Black Diamond High School became the first recognized Silver Recipient as a continuation high school in the Nation!  In addition, The Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Kaiser Permanente partnered together for the first annual Awards Recognition in San Diego, CA and recognized Black Diamond High School as a Silver recipient of the Healthy School Program. This is definitely a program I am Pittsburg Proud to be a part of.
As the 2016-2017 school year comes to a close, one of my finest Pittsburg Pride moments was seeing my father walk across the same stage as his high school graduation at the Creative Arts Building. He recently retired after 20 years of service.  This same setting will soon be the stage many Black Diamond High School students walk across in June, to continue on their journey.  As I close with my final Pittsburg Pride moment, I reflect on the work ethic, dedication, commitment, honor, sacrifice, integrity, and hard work that my parents instilled in me to succeed in life.   These are the qualities I envision for my Pittsburg students.

Milagros Estrada

Meet Milagros Estrada, Vice Principal, Rancho Medanos Junior High School 2/3/2017

My Pittsburg Pride story started in August 1990 when I arrived to Pittsburg, California from Lima, Peru. After a week of being in Pittsburg, I enrolled in Pittsburg Adult Education Center (PAEC). I attended morning and evening classes. The learning environment was inviting and encouraging. PAEC helped me to build the foundation to learn a second language, which was crucial in my academic career in this country.
Milagros and colleague
After I attended PAEC, I went to Los Medanos College where I received my Associate Degree in Liberal Arts. Since then, I have worked in the educational field in different capacities. My first job was as a bilingual teacher aide in 1992 for Pittsburg Unified School District. Later on, I worked as an early childhood teacher at the Child Care Center at Los Medanos College. After a couple of years, I was promoted to Director of the center. While working at the college, I was able to revalidate my bachelor degree from my homeland, Peru, and after taking few more classes I obtained my Multiple Subject Teaching Credential at Cal State Hayward. I also hold a Master of Curriculum Development from Chapman University.
Milagros and student
Equipped with a teaching credential, I was given the opportunity to work at Los Medanos Elementary where I taught 5th grade for 15 years. I’m immensely proud of LME and its achievements through the years. Teachers’ dedication and high expectations, and remarkable leadership led us to achieve unprecedented academic goals and to obtain several awards. During the time I worked at LME, I was blessed with fantastic mentors: Tanya Duke, Dolores Williams, Angela Stevenson, and Dr. Frank Wells.  While teaching at LME, I also taught ESL at the Pittsburg Adult Education Center. The professional growth I had experienced through my teaching years at LME and PAEC was something I wanted to share at a different level. This was the moment I decided to obtain an Administrator Credential which I earned from St Mary’s College.
Milagros and colleague
In a more recent note, this is my second year as one of the vice principal at Rancho Medanos Junior High School whose feeder school is Los Medanos Elementary.  This situation was to my advantage since I knew the families and their scholars. As an educational leader I’ve had the opportunity to get to know the scholars, visit classrooms, listen to parents, deal with conflicts, work on staff professional development, etc. Rancho Medanos has provided me with many learning opportunities. I have established several relationships and my Rancho people make me feel at home.
I want to express my gratitude to those teachers from PAEC who provided me with a head start and encouraged me to pursue my goals. I also want to thank PUSD for the job opportunities provided to me over the last 25 years.
Milagros and student

Louie LaCasse

Meet Louie LaCasse, Groundskeeper at PUSD 12/1/2016

Louie in golf cart
Louie LaCasse has worked for Pittsburg Unified School District for more than 20 years. During the past 10 years, he has been in charge of all the grounds at Pittsburg High School.

He is an army of one man! He makes sure all of the sports fields are in shipshape for practices and games. The big grass area adjacent to the football field is also something he takes great pride in, because keeping beautiful green grass is not easy with a school full of more than 3,400 students!

Keeping up with all the details that go along with school grounds is a big job. Each week, after the sporting events are over, Louie is the guy who tackles the aftermath, cleaning the bathrooms, power washing the bleachers, and collecting endless amounts of trash, cast aside by fans. But, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. In fact, he takes pride in his job and says he LOVES it! It is the variety of work and the constantly busy factor that has him excited to come to work each day.
Louie working
Most recently, Louie completed the daunting task of replacing more than 200 sprinkler heads with water saving drip lines. This project involved digging up many lines (each about a foot in length), replacing spouts with caps…and even a little help from google. In the age of the internet, almost anything he can’t figure out, a google search can solve. Plus, by watching the occasional YouTube video, he was able to discover better ways of doing the tasks at hand.
The old saying, “work smarter, not harder” is very important to a workforce of one. For instance, the sprinkler removal process required a lot of digging and after doing A LOT of digging, Louie, decided, there had to be a better way. With the help of google, he discovered a small part that would make all the difference in the project of irrigating every single bush, tree, and plant that surrounds Pittsburg High School. He approached his boss, Matt Belasco, Director of Maintenance and Operations about purchasing the parts that would save time and man hours.
“When Louie first approached me with this idea, he said, ‘You may not want to do this, but I have an idea for replacing the sprinklers much faster.’" "I immediately responded that this is awesome idea," said Belasco. "What do you need from me to make it happen? He gave me a list of items and he went to town! Louie’s work ethic is amazing. He is always looking for ways to beautify the school and conserve resources. PUSD is fortunate to have him on the team.”
Pittsburg high flower bed

With a green light, he was able to finish the water saving project much faster. He’s very prideful when he talks about the amount of water the new system will save and the fact that his plants are looking heartier since the irrigation switch was made. The new drip system doesn’t spray in different directions like the old sprinklers; therefore, water is targeted and the roots are reaping the benefits.
Not only is there a drip system throughout the Pittsburg High School campus grounds, there is also a recycled water program in place that Louie manages. He works with the Delta Diablo Recycled Water Program to make sure the water source is working properly and is not draining into the sewer system.

He performs monthly tests to make sure everything is running properly. This is all part of the district’s goal to become a more sustainable school district. Louie says he’s curious to learn the water savings after a year has passed, so he can see first-hand the fruits of his labor.
Pittsburg High school planet

Lawn mowing, tree trimming, weeding, mulching and the general duties of a horticulturalist are also another notch on Louie’s tool belt. He coordinates with Mt. Diablo Recycling to receive truckloads of mulch and dirt donations.

In 2016, Pittsburg Unified School District received donations valued at nearly $15,000 in the form of bark, compost, and compost bags. Thank you to Mt. Diablo Recycling for this wonderful partnership! This is a big deal because the donations help the district save money and the materials help Louie keep the grounds looking classy for sports fans, school visitors, and our most important clients, students.
Louie is definitely a jack of many trades: lawnmower, golf cart driver, field maintenance manager, leaf collector, gardener, horticulturist, water conservationist, janitor, google guru…and groundskeeper…but he says he wouldn’t have it any other way. "Most people see a shrub, bush, tree, or green grass, but for me, it is time and hard work, which I am proud of,” said LaCasse.