They may not wear capes, but ALL of our Fairmont educators are heroes. And seven of them were recently honored in Parenting OC’s 2022 School Heroes Awards. Congratulations to:
Chad Jackson – OC’s Top School Leader of the Year
Heather Poretta – among the Top 10 OC Teachers of the Year
Joshua Riturban and Barbara Shaw – among the Top 25 Teachers of the Year
Karen Saturday, Jill Thomas, and Justin Voss – among the Top 10 Employees of the Year
Get to know a little about these remarkable educators by reading the essays their peers submitted as part of the award nomination process.
Chad Jackson has never been one to back down from a challenge. So when COVID hit and upended the landscape of education, there was no person better suited to lead Fairmont Schools through the adversities brought about by the pandemic.
During his more than 20 years in education, Chad has served in many capacities — teacher, Assistant Director of Education, Director of Operations, Executive Vice President, and most recently, President — giving him a breadth of experience that helped him understand the challenges that COVID brought to virtually every area of our organization.
A love for students and compassion for parents’ concerns guided Chad, ensuring that every constituent’s needs were addressed. His respect for faculty and staff motivated him to leave no stone unturned in supporting and empowering them during this tumultuous time.
Under Chad’s leadership, our organization saw great success through each stage of the COVID journey — pivoting to remote learning, crafting our strategic reopening plan, educating our community, evaluating and improving our remote offerings, and ultimately planning for the safe reopening of five campuses. It’s not possible to list the many significant accomplishments that occurred under his oversight, but we’d like to highlight three major successes that he championed:
Innovation in Remote Learning – Leveraging live-streamed instruction and cutting-edge technology (like Swivl™ robotics), our remote students gained a virtual window into the classroom. This connected them with teachers and classmates in an immersive experience, and also allowed teachers to view them in their remote learning environments. Equally important, this platform facilitated social and emotional connections to be made — something that was desperately needed at the time.
Safe Return to Campus – Working closely with multiple health agencies, consulting with medical experts, and collaborating with other education leaders, Chad oversaw the development of a comprehensive plan to protect the wellbeing of our community. The plan was so rigorous that Fairmont was awarded a waiver to reopen for on-campus instruction.
No COVID Slide – While schools across the nation grappled with the learning loss associated with the pandemic, Fairmont students bucked the trend. Formative assessments showed that our students didn’t merely survive in the face of COVID, they actually thrived!
It’s often said that true leadership best shows itself in the face of adversity. Chad Jackson’s success given a task of such magnitude speaks to his outstanding leadership because true leaders step up in the face of challenges and tackle them head-on.
– Mary Jane Miller, Chief Operating Officer
It is with immense enthusiasm and pride that I nominate Heather Porretta as the Top Teacher – High School level, for Parenting OC Magazine. Heather started her career at Fairmont over 25 years ago as a student services team member and currently serves as the Prep Academy’s Social Science Department Chair and Faculty Liaison. In Heather’s tenure, she has taught junior high through high school students in all social science classes and currently teaches AP US History and AP Government to our juniors and seniors.
Heather is simply amazing! It’s hard to find a teacher who is liked, respected, and trusted by students, parents, faculty, and staff alike; and Heather is that person. All who interact with her know that she is consistent, thorough, fair, and really funny! We consider her to be a barometer of the campus because she listens and hears the needs of those around her. To this end, Heather leads our Academic Council which is the voice of our campus, comprised of all Department Chairs and Campus leadership. Additionally, Heather is the person our teachers go to for help with their gradebooks, troubleshooting, problem-solving and advice. She always has a pulse on how everyone is doing, recognizes successes, and helps untangle any problems that arise. Notably, Heather was named Faculty Liaison this year to serve as a conduit between administration, teachers, and students because she is a leader that pulls our community together.
Heather does so much for everyone she comes in contact with. Where Heather shines brightest though is in the classroom. Heather teaches with passion, expects the best from her students, and offers the unique balance of being demanding and caring in her classes. She incorporates her love of justice, history, and critical thinking into her lessons, offering students a variety of activities, assessments, and opportunities to learn about history while keeping a keen eye on their future.
I hope you can tell, that Heather is valued beyond words. On behalf of myself and our entire school community, I cannot offer a bigger, more genuine endorsement for Heather Porretta as Parenting OC’s Top Teacher.
– Julie Weems, Director of Counseling
Teacher: 6th-8th Science
Student 1: Mr. Riturban is always very kind and considerate of his students. He assigns hands-on projects that are engaging and fun, while we are still learning the science material very well. He is always available to help and is able to give concise answers, and helps students understand the science concepts. He also provides inspiration and guidance on my science fair projects, which is another great trait about Mr. Riturban that not very many other teachers would do. He puts in a lot of effort to make the class fun for everybody and has shown that he cares for his students time after time. He always makes sure kids are doing their work and staying on task, and gives great instruction for each project we do. He plans ahead and gets materials for unique and original science projects for the class to produce.
– Eli L., Student
Student 2: Mr. Riturban really makes learning science worthwhile and fun. He’s one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met and has helped me throughout the science fair and more. He makes sure that you always fully understand the topic, and comes up with the most interactive experiments for his students. Mr. Riturban makes difficult topics sound easy and understands when we’re having a tough time. He’s also the best teacher to give us a good laugh and one of my favorites. His interactive science lessons are relevant to whatever we learn and beneficial as they always help us understand the lesson. Mr. Riturban goes above and beyond to ensure that he teaches science well and supports his students. He’s truly loved by us all!
– Gia P. Student
Student 3: Mr.Riturban is an awesome teacher. He always makes learning fun and educational, and has us do projects that relate to what we like. An example would be when we made animations about rocks, minerals, and the rock cycle. Mr. Riturban is also always there to help us when we need it, such as when we are working on the Science Fair and are confused about something. Mr. Riturban has us doing lots of experiments and projects that are fun and interactive. I like his class because I learn a lot without having to sit in a classroom all day and work in a textbook. Instead, we do fun stuff, in the beginning of the year we went outside and blew through a straw on some sand to learn about erosion. Another time we made paper earths that you could flip through to learn about the earth’s crust. His classroom is also very fun with work all over the walls and class pets. We have a bunch of fish, a frog, and some other pets too. That is why I think Mr.Riturban is a top teacher.
– Naya S., Student
Teacher: JK-8th Grade Specialty – STEM
Mrs. Shaw is the definition of a dynamic educator! Her passion for her subject shines through in the activities and projects she creates for her students. Whether she is working with our Kindergarten students or our 8th-grade students, her level of expectation never waivers. She isn’t one to accept mediocrity, but she pushes herself to level up and improve her craft every single day. This past year we were able to expand her classroom space, “The Genius Lab” to provide more room for materials and activities. This year she secured a grant that allowed almost a dozen of our middle school students to participate in a “Space Teams” program. Mrs. Shaw doesn’t accept the answer of “no,” because she believes there are solutions to every problem. In the past year and one half that I have worked with Barb, she has motivated, encouraged, supported, and inspired me with her tireless dedication to her subject and to her students. I have worked with hundreds of teachers during my 21 years in education, but Barbara Shaw is without a doubt in the Top 5 teachers of all time for me. I would like to nominate her for OC Teacher of the Year for the following reasons: her passion for STEM and learning, her dedication to her craft and her students, her consistent effort in securing learning materials/tools through grants, and the inspiring example she sets for her students and colleagues.
– Dana Vasquez, Head of School – Fairmont San Juan Capistrano
Employee: Activities Director
Fairmont Historic Anaheim Campus
“Multitasker” really doesn’t do enough to capture Mrs. Saturday’s unique skill set! From greeting every student at morning drop-off to planning campus events, running our beautiful summer and winter camps, coordinating field trips, and a million other things, Mrs. Saturday happily and expertly fills every role that comes her way.
As if by magic, Mrs. Saturday is able to anticipate the needs of our school community and is always ready with a well-organized and thoughtful plan. She is the maestro behind our spelling bees, honor roll assemblies, graduation ceremonies, and special events, and I know I can always count on her to have every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed! When Mrs. Saturday is involved in planning, I know that everything will be beautiful, thoughtful, well organized – and above all else, focused on providing the very best to our students.
Beyond her school year duties, Mrs. Saturday is also “the woman behind the magic” of our extraordinary summer camp program. In summer camp, every day is an adventure with games, activities, new experiences, new friends, and life-long memories (capture your counselor Pokemon, anyone!?). It is common for students to be picked up later and later throughout the year and it is all thanks to the hard work, dedication, and creative planning of Mrs. Saturday. Parents and students are genuinely appreciative of her dedication, assistance, and support with clear communication and great follow-through. No matter what comes her way, Mrs. Saturday either knows the answer or is quick to find out.
In each role that Ms. Karen fills for us, she is enthusiastic, hard-working, and committed. She is always willing to try something new or different, and no matter what, her product is exceptional. Every day she comes to work excited to help and ready to make a difference, and I can’t tell you how much her support means to me and to our team.
For all of her years of hard work, friendship, love, laughter, and support, it is my honor to nominate Mrs. Karen Saturday as a top employee of 2022. We couldn’t manage without her!
– Rebecca Lugo, Head of School – Fairmont Historic Anaheim
Employee: School Counselor (Preschool through 12th grade)
I have worked with Jill Thomas since 2011, but she has worked for Fairmont Private Schools for almost 20 years. We first met when I was a high school English teacher at Fairmont Prep Academy. She supported many of my students who were struggling with various challenges. It was immediately evident to me how gifted she was with her craft. Jill’s level of compassion, skill, and expertise make her one of the very best school counselors I have worked with in my 20-plus years in education. Jill is the school counselor for all 5 of the Fairmont campuses from Preschool through 12th grade. I honestly have NO idea how she manages all of her cases and always remains open and available to any call. Jill has an abundance of knowledge and readily shares this in classroom presentations for students of all ages, with parents in zoom and in person, and with faculty and staff for professional development. She is always searching for ways to build our tools and resources with Social Emotional Learning, Anti-Bullying, Positive Body Image, Anxiety and Depression, and so much more. I have watched Ms. Thomas handle some of the most delicate student and parent situations, as well as personal conflicts between staff members, and I am consistently impressed. Msl Thomas’ heart for helping others is like nothing I have ever seen when it comes to school counselors!
– Dana Vasquez, Head of School – Fairmont San Juan Capistrano
Employee: Director of College Counseling (Counselor)
I serve as the Director of Counseling at Fairmont Prep where I oversee seven academic and college counselors. With all of our counselors, we ask that they be sensitive to their student’s needs, build trusting relationships, be responsive to parent communication and requests, and be a collaborative member of our counseling group. In terms of these requirements and so much more, Justin Voss is simply remarkable. I have had the pleasure of working with Justin since 2012 and wholeheartedly respect his work, work ethic, enthusiasm to collaborate, and willingness to do anything that is needed to support our community.
As our Director of College Counseling, Justin oversees our counseling program at both our campus as well as Fairmont’s San Juan Capistrano campus. He also serves as Academic and College counselor for students in our Advanced Science & Engineering, International Business, and International Baccalaureate Programs. Justin leads our social media presence and is a Class Advisor for our Associated Student Body.
As an academic and college counselor to the students in his advanced program caseload, Justin’s experience from the other side of the college admission desk has been an asset as he has assisted his students. He offers sage advice and guidance from both the high school and college admission viewpoints and his experience has elicited respect and trust from both students and parents. His college counseling skills and his ability to really get to know his students have allowed Justin to help match his students with the best colleges and universities for their needs. But aside from being tremendously knowledgeable about academic and college advising, Justin has established himself as a bit of a renaissance man. Around campus, Justin is known as a favorite amongst students. His dry and witty sense of humor is appreciated and his creative side is often on display, most notably in our talent shows where Justin has performed well known-pop musical pieces. Because Justin interacts with everyone on campus through his role in ASB, it is common to have students and faculty stop by to simply hang out with Justin. Justin is always building relationships and making our students feel like they belong. This ability to build personal and professional relationships is one of Justin’s biggest strengths.
Justin is cherished by Fairmont and on behalf of our entire school community, I cannot offer a bigger, more genuine endorsement for Justin Voss as Parenting OC’s Top Employee.
– Julie Weems, Director of Counseling