The Association of California School Administrators selected Ethel Harnden, district secretary for the Pollock Pines School District, as the state of California’s “Confidential Employee of the Year.”
As a classified employee who works closely with district administration, Harnden, 64, is the type of person you want at your right hand, according to Pollock Pines Superintendent Kevin Monsma. “One teacher told me that it was okay for me to be gone from the school, but not Mrs. Harnden,” he said.
Harnden has worked full-time for Pollock Pines schools as school secretary and then as district secretary for 28 years. Prior to that, she worked part-time for the district and as a parent volunteer while her daughter, Danyel, was in school.
For most of those years, Harnden lived in a log cabin at PG&E Camp Two near Plum Creek where her husband, Dan, was the water maintenance officer for part of the El Dorado Canal. During the heavy snows of winter, the cabin was often without electricity, but Harnden still managed to get to her job in Pollock Pines on time and bring her daughter to school. During the winter she snowshoed down a mile of switchbacks to her four-wheel drive Jeep and then drove through snow and ice to get to work. She returned home the same way, snowshoeing back to a dark cabin.
Monsma and the rest of the staff at the district office decided to nominate Harnden for well-deserved recognition before her retirement in December.
“We had to keep it a secret because Ethel neither seeks nor desires the limelight,” said Monsma. “It was hard to do, because everything in this office goes through ‘Ethelization’ for editing, spell checking and beautification.”
With letters of support from the Pollock Pines Board of Trustees, Monsma and Harnden’s daughter Danyel, Harnden was chosen to be the ACSA county Confidential Employee of the Year.
“But we still didn’t tell her,” said Monsma. “We just told her she had to attend an ACSA dinner because she was a member.”
Harnden said she became a little suspicious because every member of Pollock’s administrative staff was going to the dinner, but she didn’t realize that it might have something to do with her until she arrived at the dinner and saw her husband sitting at a table wearing a name tag.
After becoming the county Confidential Employee of the Year, Harnden thought she was done. But, she was then selected to be ACSA’s Regional Confidential Employee of the Year and, recently, the district was notified that Harnden had been selected by ACSA as the state Confidential Employee of the Year.
“Thank goodness there isn’t an international award,” said Harnden.
She is responsible for Board of Trustee packets, the board agenda and minutes, all correspondence, personnel and reports. She is the first person students, staff and parents meet when they come to the district office. “It’s a small district, so we all wear many hats,” said Harnden.
“Many times when we sit down to consider those who we should honor,” read Monsma’s nomination, “we are often swayed by lengthy publications, many committee memberships, public leadership and other attributes which have played out in the public or community eye … more important than these criteria are the characteristics and attributes which make up the essence of who a person is within the educational realm. In Ethel I have found a pillar of quiet strength and resolve that provides support when needed and encouragement to take the next step.”
Harnden’s quiet efficiency, sage advice for students, staff and parents, and her positive response to the needs of students and families in the community have made an impression on people for years. The staff laughingly insists that Sean Martin, chief financial officer for Pollock Pines School District, earned his position from the lessons he received as a fourth grader from Harnden when she was school secretary. Monsma jokes that her retirement is threatened to be prohibited as she is too critical to the efficient functioning of the district.
In November, Harnden will go to the ACSA Leadership Summit in San Jose as a guest of ACSA to receive her award and she will be featured in the organization’s paper. At the end of December, she plans to retire to her home in Pacific House with her husband who is already retired.
“I’m a home-body and I’m looking forward to staying home and watching the snow fall,” said Harnden. She also plans to do a lot of reading, walking and quilting.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530-344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @WSchultzMtDemo.