School administrators and para-educators are crucial to the educational experience. (Courtesy photo)

School administrators and para-educators are crucial to the educational experience. (Courtesy photo)

Classroom contributions come in many forms

I love music and listen to it as much as possible. High-performing schools are a lot like a good band or orchestra: Everyone contributes and, no matter which instrument they play, they’re part of making great music. Without the different instruments, the sound would be very different.

Last week, I told you about the pre-K through 12 classroom teachers who were honored by Mayor Mark Farrell this year. There is another group of people, just as important to our students, honored by the mayor — our school administrators and para-educators.

Though a short paragraph doesn’t even come close to describing their contributions, I am going to share a few words about each of this year’s winners below.

Samuel Bass, Phillip & Sala Burton Academic High School
When Sam first moved to San Francisco in 2011, his first role in the San Francisco Unified School District was that of Instructional Reform Facilitator at Phillip & Sala Burton Academic High School. After serving as a middle school assistant principal and an elementary school principal, Mr. Bass returned to Burton, where he is now proudly completing his second year as principal. Sam received the ACSA Administrator of the Year Award for Valuing Diversity in 2016 and is currently in the Stanford Principal Fellowship Program. Sam is driven to provide as many opportunities and possibilities to traditionally underserved students in San Francisco as possible. He is humbled and proud to be representing Burton High School with this honor.

Eli Horn, San Miguel Early Education School
Eli is a San Francisco native and graduate of Lowell High School. Eli has always been dedicated to working on behalf of youth. Prior to becoming an early education administrator, Eli served as the director of the Visitacion Valley Community Beacon (a school-community partnership based at Visitacion Valley middle school), where he worked to provide an array of academic and enrichment services to students, families and community members. Eli joined the SFUSD in 2011 as an Early Education Administrator. At San Miguel EES, he and the staff have been focused on building the literacy and language skills of our city’s youngest learners to ensure they are ready for kindergarten.

Mary Lavalais, San Francisco Community School
Ms. Lavalais is the recipient of this year’s first para-educator award. A native-born San Franciscan from Bayview Hunters Point, Ms. Lavalais attended City College of San Francisco and then transferred to San Francisco State University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in social work and graduate degree in marriage, family and child counseling. Since 1970, she has worked in early childhood development at several different child development organizations. In 1986, Mary joined the SFUSD as a student advisor at Fairmount Elementary School and then moved to San Francisco Community School, where she has been supporting students since 2000.

Emmanuel Stewart, Dr. George Washington Carver Academic Elementary School
Mr. Stewart has worked in public education for 27 years. He started out as a paraprofessional at Potrero Hill Middle School and Dr. William Cobb Elementary School. Eight years later, through the Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program, he moved into his own classroom at Dr. George Washington Carver Academic Elementary School. He then took on different leadership roles in schools in the City’s Southeast, including serving as a science coach for teachers and Assistant Principal at Visitacion Valley Middle School. He now leads the school where he taught for 14 years. He says he is committed to the Bayview Hunters Point community and brings excitement, passion and dedication to his work.

Lena Van Haren, Everett Middle School
Lena Van Haren is in her eighth year serving on the leadership team at Everett Middle School and her fifth year as principal, bringing with her 16 years of experience in urban education. She began her career as a teacher and then literacy coach with the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto. Lena is a graduate of Berkeley’s Principal Leadership Institute (PLI) and has served as adjunct faculty with local Bay Area Teaching Credential programs, as well as with the PLI. She has worked passionately alongside many incredible teachers and leaders to turn around Everett from one of the lowest performing middle schools in San Francisco with low enrollment to a high-performing school that now has a wait list of students.

I bet you know principals, para-educators, teachers and other district staff who you’d like to see recognized for their contributions. Anyone can nominate someone for the mayor’s award next year and, year-round, you can nominate SFUSD staff for a RAVE award. Just go to It’s a great way to wrap up the school year with a bow.

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