A paraprofessional/library specialist who opens the school library during lunches so students can have a space where they feel safe and cared for has been named Delaware’s 2024 Delaware Educational Support Professional of the Year.
“The library has an open-door policy so students can take a break, check in or have someone listen to them,” said Sinead Ronan of Caesar Rodney School District’s Magnolia Middle School . “This supports the development of self-regulation and provides an outlet where students can feel heard.”
She was one of 19 paraprofessionals nominated for the state honor by school districts and charter schools.
Ronan immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland 16 years ago and has 11 years of experience as an educational support professional.
She considers forming successful relationships with students, families and colleagues her most important responsibility.
Relationships form the foundation of a successful school environment in the short-term and strengthen the community for the long-term, she said.
“The prefix ‘para’ means beside, and individuals in our schoool community know I will walk their journey beside them,” Ronan said. “My role is to support, empower and encourage them. I believe the personal relationships I establish create a ripple effect across the school environment, creating lasting positive relationships for students.”
Ronan also facilitates and hosts school community events such as Family Literacy Night, Month of the Military Child Celebration, and STEM Night to provide additional connection points.
“As a parent, I know that communication with families is effective. I prioritize calling and meeting with families, focusing on the positive and encouraging student growth and family-school trust. Adults are not perfect, and we shouldn’t expect students to be, either,” Ronan said. “I utilize an asset orientation that shifts the focus from student compliance to personal growth.”
The Delaware State Educational Support Professional of the Year program recognizes outstanding service by school employees who provide direct or indirect services to students and their families. It includes paraprofessionals, custodial staff, secretaries, nutritional staff, bus drivers, bus aides and information technology staff.
From those nominated at a building level, one educational support professional of the year moves forward to represent each district or the charter school community in the state program.
Each district/charter network winner receives a $2,000 personal award from the winner’s district or charter school. The state winner receives an additional $3,000 personal award from the department as well as $5,000 from the department to be used for the educational benefit of his or her students.
The selection committee that reviewed the local winners’ state applications this year included Susan Bunting, retired Secretary of Education; Chaneya Edwards, a Delaware Department of Education field agent; Candice Fifer, member of the State Board of Education; Susan Haberstroh, retired DOE director; Heather Hitchens, the 2023 Delaware Educational Support Professional of the Year; Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association; and David Thomas, 2022 Delaware Educational Support Professional of the Year.
The 2024 honorees are:
- Appoquinimink: Ingrid Coria*, SPIM paraprofessional, Everett Meredith Middle School
- Brandywine: Crystal Day, administrative assistant, Concord High School
- Cape Henlopen: Gilbert Maull, instructional paraprofessional, Rehoboth Elementary School
- Capital: Mary Simpers, Title I paraprofessional, Hartly Elementary School
- Charter Network: Craig Aukamp, athletic trainer/support professional, The Charter School of Wilmington
- Christina: Khiry Henderson, custodian/maintenance, Eden Support Service Center
- Colonial: Nicole C. Gebhart, senior lead field technician, Colonial Operations Building
- Delmar: Bethany Copeland, paraprofessional, Delmar Middle School
- Indian River: Michelle Gates, guidance secretary, Georgetown Middle School
- Lake Forest: Michele Schoof, paraprofessional/social emotional learning, Lake Forest East Elementary School
- Laurel: Michael D. Snead, behavioral paraprofessional, Laurel Elementary School
- Milford: Christa Henderson, instructional support paraprofessional, Lulu Ross Elementary School
- New Castle County Vo-Tech: Pamela Wise-Bowen, guidance secretary, Delcastle Technical High School
- POLYTECH: Elaine Balcerak, paraprofessional, POLYTECH High School
- Red Clay Consolidated: Neil Patel*, help desk support analyst, Information Technology Office
- Seaford: Vincent T. Evans, Jr., dean of students, Seaford Middle School
- Smyrna: Lisa Haywood, paraprofessional, Smyrna High School
- Sussex Tech: Shannon Brown*, paraprofessional, Sussex Technical High School
- Woodbridge: Rommel Ongaco, child nutrition manager, Phillis Wheatley Elementary School
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