KCSOS Announces ‘You Make a Difference’ Award Honorees

Friday December 1, 2023

Every year, KCSOS solicits nominations for its annual You Make a Difference Awards, which recognize employees in three categories — Overall Excellence, Innovation in Education, and Distinguished Service. Final selections are made by a committee consisting of office employees who select the honorees based on their “dedication and contributions to the success of the overall mission of the organization.” These hard-working employees exemplify what these awards are all about: making a difference in the lives of children. Read on to learn more about each of this year’s recipients.

Throughout her decades-long career in education, Michelle Roy has been dedicated to science, passionate about inspiring young learners, and committed to bridging the gap between outdoor STEM education and classroom science curriculum. These achievements make Roy an easy choice for this year’s Innovation in Education Award.

Roy joined KCSOS in 2015 as a science TOSA (teacher on special assignment) and was able to visit various schools in Kern County and teach science. Given her 26 years of experience as a science teacher at the Fruitvale and Greenfield school districts, this job came naturally. Soon, she was promoted to Science Coordinator and was tasked with identifying ways to help districts provide additional learning opportunities in STEM. Her solution was to create more opportunities for students to gain knowledge outside the classroom. 

She worked with fellow KCSOS Coordinator Jamie Viveros, who, at the time, was working for Science 4 Kern, Kern County’s first and only science education lending library program geared toward Kern County students and funded by Chevron. Their first camp was called GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) and was funded by a grant from the Women and Girls Fund of Kern County. Girls from the Fairfax and Edison school districts attended a five-day camp at CALM during the summer of 2021.

However, both Roy and Viveros knew that these opportunities were important for all students, so they also got to work on developing a six-week STEAM camp for students at CALM the following year. STEAM, which incorporates visual and performing arts in addition to the traditional STEM curriculum, was the new focus for these camps. 

Now, a year later, Roy and Viveros’ Expanded Learning STEAM Camps provide learning opportunities for thousands of students at CALM and at the Kern County Museum each summer. 

Looking back on her expansive career, Roy is amused at how it almost didn’t happen. In college, Roy studied biology with the intention of entering the medical field. She recalls being lucky to have had a great science program at her middle school, which planted a love for science in her early on. 

“I was always into science as a kid,” said Roy. “I was just super curious and intrigued by the natural world. I also had a couple of fantastic science teachers along the way who encouraged me to pursue this field.” 

While not a doctor, Roy is grateful she found teaching and got to be her own version of Miss Frizzle from “The Magic School Bus,” a character she always loved. She loves how the STEAM camps continue to fuel her love for science and her love of teaching and passing on her passion for science to students across Kern County. 

“These STEAM Camps are important and impactful in so many ways,” Roy said. “Not only do the students get to learn new things about the natural world around them, but they take it back to their parents. Even chaperons get excited about learning new science curricula. All of our mentors, who we recruit from local colleges and universities, also get experience sharing the knowledge they are learning in school. Some have even transitioned into education after having enjoyed teaching students. Every level of these camps is impacting science learning in Kern County.” 

As Roy’s innovative approach to education continues to inspire and enrich countless students’ lives, her unwavering commitment to fostering creativity, curiosity, and a love for science in young learners will continue on full STEAM ahead. 

Jamie Viveros (far right) interacts with students and her son, who is a mentor for the STEAM camps.

Although an official KCSOS employee for only one year, Viveros’ diverse career journey blending her love for science, art, and coaching has helped make a significant impact in STEAM education in Kern County. She was a clear choice for this year’s Innovation in Education Award.

Viveros grew up in the small town of Santa Paula in Ventura County, where she discovered a love of art early on and was an avid drawer. She also played basketball, but after discovering a heart condition, she had to stop. Despite the many roadblocks she experienced in her childhood, Viveros quickly learned the benefits of staying tenacious. 

“Growing up in poverty and in the projects, being evicted, and experiencing so many life changes so young, I had to learn just to keep moving forward,” said Viveros. “It has helped me so much in my career.”

After graduating from college, Viveros taught art and science at Fairfax Middle School. Eight years later, she moved to the Panama-Buena Vista School District and worked at Stone Creek Junior High, where she coached basketball and officiated games. Looking back on her time at Stone Creek, Viveros remembers being proud that she instilled a passion for sports in many students, especially after launching an elective course where students could learn to officiate games. 

After taking a brief teaching break to support her children’s sporting activities, Viveros transferred to Tevis Junior High. During this time, she learned about the changes happening at Castle Elementary School, which was becoming a STEAM academy. She applied to be the Lead STEAM Specialist and worked there for two years.

“I learned a lot in that time, especially teaching elementary students, which I hadn’t done before,” said Viveros. “There was such a huge difference in attendance numbers after incorporating the STEAM curriculum. Test scores also increased and showed us a need for more of this curriculum for students. That’s when I learned more about Science 4 Kern and knew I wanted to be a part of that solution.” 

Despite Viveros joining Science 4 Kern in 2020 during the pandemic, she connected with Michelle Roy at KCSOS. Together, the two worked to make the Expanded Learning STEAM Camp what it is today. However, as she looks at statistics showing that 80% of future jobs will be STEM-based, Viveros knows there is always room for more opportunities, even when the path to success isn’t as straightforward as she would prefer. 

“I look back at my career and see that there were several times when I needed to step back and look for new avenues to make a difference,” Viveros recalls. “I embrace the ‘never give up’ attitude and always look for ways to improve. That’s why I care so deeply about the camps because, at the end of the day, the kids teach me just as much as I teach them.”

Although both Viveros and Roy have done a lot to make these camps successful, both also have built valuable community connections with the Arts Council of Kern, the Kern County Museum, and the Bakersfield Police Department. These connections are further optimized through various STEAM department events like STEM Olympiad and the Science Fair. Through their work, KCSOS STEAM camps have increased students’ awareness of college and careers in Kern County and provided exposure to mentors around STEAM careers. 

According to STEAM and Expanded Learning Director Kyle Atkin, both Roy and Viveros have widened the support that KCSOS gives to districts, which ultimately helps students succeed better in the future.

Mollie Montgomery

Mollie Montgomery has only been with KCSOS for two years, but it would be easy to mistake her for a decades-long office veteran. Her outstanding customer service, professionalism, and kindness make her well-loved within the Human Resources department and an obvious choice for the Distinguished Service Award.

Before working at KCSOS, Montgomery worked two part-time jobs while pursuing her bachelor’s in psychology at California State University, Bakersfield. One of those positions was as an intern at a local law firm. After graduation, Montgomery was offered a full-time position at the law firm within the marketing department. 

However, when a position opened up in the human resources department, she decided to pivot and take on the new opportunity. From that point forward, Montgomery realized her passion for the human resources field.

Soon, Julia Vlahos, an attorney at Schools Legal Service who had previously worked with Montgomery at Klein, DeNatale, Goldner, LLP, contacted her about a human resources assistant position that had opened up at KCSOS. 

“Mollie is such a unique individual who, even at a young age, exhibited a discipline and work ethic I had rarely witnessed before,” said Vlahos. “She is always professional, hard-working, smart, and above all, kind. I knew the moment I saw the job opening at KCSOS that I needed to reach out to Mollie and urge her to apply.”

As soon as she joined KCSOS, Montgomery quickly realized it was a special place to work.

“It’s kind of funny how those opportunities happen. One day you’re working and you’re told about a new opportunity so you take a chance,” said Montgomery. “Had Julia not messaged me, this job would have never been on my radar, which I don’t even want to think about because I love working here so much.”  

Since joining KCSOS as a human resources assistant, Montgomery returned to school and received her Society for Human Resources (SHRM) certificate after seeing how dedicated KCSOS was to empowering employees to invest in professional development opportunities. 

Her hard work paid off, and Montgomery was promoted to Human Resources Technician III in August of 2022. Her day-to-day work now involves onboarding certificated employees and answering any questions they may have.

Division Administrator of Operational Support Cameron Guinn is one employee who communicates with Montgomery for a number of reasons. According to him, all interactions with Montgomery have always been exceptional, leading him to nominate her for this award.

“There is something uniquely positive about Mollie Montgomery that I wish I could bottle and sell,” said Guinn. “In all her interactions with varying stakeholders, she is acutely professional, remarkably kind, supportive and efficient.”

With only two years at KCSOS, Montgomery has made a profound impact that resonates far beyond her tenure. Yet, she remains humble and focused on her mission to support employees, collaborate with her colleagues, and embrace a “find the yes” approach to every situation – a philosophy instilled in her by Cherie Payne, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. Join us in congratulating Mollie on this well-deserved award.

Juan Bautista

Friendly, approachable, calm, efficient, and knowledgeable. These words describe Juan Bautista, a custodian who has been a staple at North Kern Community School over the last ten years. His level of excellence is why he is one of this year’s Distinguished Service Award recipients.

Bautista started at KCSOS in 2007 as a substitute custodian after being encouraged by his father to apply. His father also worked at KCSOS and told Bautista what a wonderful place it was to work. As soon as he stepped foot here, he knew it was special, too. Bautista became a full-time employee in 2009.

According to Operations Supervisor Greg Henry, Bautista offers assistance and puts others at ease when things become stressful. Henry also praises Bautista for being a constant fixture of the campus and always taking pride in all he does to represent the office in a positive light.

“He has a vast knowledge of the site and has been crucial in keeping operations running smoothly,” said Henry. “He is the most humble person you could ever meet. He’s the first to help and the last to seek recognition.”

Although Bautista has thoroughly enjoyed his time at North Kern, he has also been working hard to finish his bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Bakersfield. Now that he has graduated, he hopes to pursue a career in education and is considering receiving a teaching credential. 

“I don’t want to leave KCSOS and hope to begin substitute teaching in January to see if it is something I want to pursue further,” said Bautista. “Ultimately, whatever I decide to do next, I want to continue doing it with a smile on my face, as my dad always encouraged me to do. It’s important to me to always be aware that others may be going through difficult times at any moment and we should be always striving to make it a comfortable environment for all.”

In his spare time, Bautista is an avid traveler. He has visited many international destinations, including Europe and Central America. He also loves to travel within the United States and play golf when he can. 

General Counsel Grant Herndon (left), Supervising Legal Secretary Cathy Rother (middle), and Assistant General Counsel Abby Auffant (right) pose for a photo in the SLS Law Library. 

For more than 35 years, Cathy Rother has been a fixture at Schools Legal Service. Among her many responsibilities, Rother is known for producing exceptionally high-quality work and delivering it with kindness and compassion. Her continued commitment to excellence makes Rother an outstanding recipient of this year’s Larry E. Reider Excellence Award. 

Rother had always known she wanted to work in the legal field. However, upon graduating from Bakersfield College with an associate’s degree in Business Management, she decided to continue working as a secretary in a local retirement community where she had worked while taking classes. However, an opportunity to join a local law firm encouraged Rother to enter the field she had always wanted to pursue. 

After a few years, a friend recommended KCSOS’s Schools Legal Service (SLS), a unique law firm formed by its member school districts to provide specialized legal services at reasonable costs. Although Rother did complete a brief stint with Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance and another law firm in town for several years, Rother has always found her way back to SLS to continue providing valuable legal support to over 60 school districts.

According to General Counsel Grant Herndon, who supervises Rother, she has always made clients feel welcome, known, and looked after. 

“In every communication, be it by phone or email, she goes the extra mile to personalize the message and let the client know the office cares about their matter,” said Herndon. “She is truly in a class of her own and does not hesitate to put the time in to get it right the first time. Because of this, it does so much to further the credibility of the office and SLS’s attorneys.” 

In her many years of service at SLS, Rother has seen many issues arise in the education landscape. However, she is always surprised when encountering new issues she’s never had to deal with. With any new experience, Rother always encourages everyone to give it six months to acclimate to any new environment. 

“I always tell myself and other people not to make any significant decisions or judgments about a new job or environment within the first six months to a year,” said Rother. “Individuals often face challenges, feel out of their comfort zone, or experience discomfort as they adjust to a new situation. Giving yourself time to acclimate, gain confidence, and assess whether this new role or environment fits you will help you fully excel.” 

Rother’s remarkable journey in the legal field is a testament to her unwavering dedication and enduring commitment. Her 35-plus-year tenure at Schools Legal Service reflects her longevity and deep-rooted passion for the legal field. Rother’s ongoing commitment to her role has not wavered; she continues to navigate new challenges with grace and resilience, making her an invaluable asset to the legal community and the school districts she supports.

By Jennifer Bryan

By Jennifer Bryan

Jennifer Bryan joined Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2021 as a Communications Specialist. As a creative and motivated marketing communications specialist, she has a special knack for storytelling and content creation. Born and raised in Kern County, Jennifer has worked in major industries within the region such as agriculture and oil and gas before she made the transition to education.