Merced County Times Newspaper
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‘Pandemic principal’ among honorees at Education Awards


The honorees for this year’s Excellence in Education Awards have finally been announced.

April Amaral, Diana Dietz and Mandie Onate were chosen from a list of 26 school teachers, administrators and employees singled out for going above and beyond.

The ceremony took place in the Merced Theater last week, complete with color guard and a singing of the national anthem. Organized by the Merced County Office of Education (MCOE) and sponsored by the Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU), the Excellence in Education Awards are held every year.

Amaral, a teacher at Merced Scholars Charter School, was recognized for her dedication and her willingness to challenge. MSCS isn’t a traditional school, it started out as a supplement to homeschool and independent study, and many of Amaral’s students have been with her since kindergarten. Her fellow staff praised her “heart for teaching.”

“Building relationships with my students is extremely important to me,” Amaral said.

Administrator of the Year was awarded to Mitchell Senior Elementary principal Diana Dietz, who arrived in the Atwater position at the outset of the COVID pandemic and shepherded the school through the crisis. She was instrumental in starting a number of programs that continue at the school to this day.

“I started off as a pandemic principal,” she said. “Fast forward to 2022 and I’m now describing myself as a whatever-it-takes principal.”

Onate is a student services secretary at Livingston High School. She’s responsible for everything from selling items to student ID cards to scheduling and clubs. She was described as the “heart and soul” of her department by her fellow staff. She said her favorite part of the job is seeing the smiles of kids when she clears their physicals and tells them they’re able to play sports.

“I strive to be the type of employee that I as a parent would want to encounter when I call my child’s school,” she said.

Merced County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Tietjen and EECU CEO Elizabeth Dooley both shared their praises to the honorees and winners for their exemplary work in education.

The winners of the Merced County Teacher of the Year and School Employee of the Year are now eligible to move on to apply at the state awards program.

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