When Kathee Kunke was called to the gym at College Hill High School, she thought she was just going to fix a tricky media cart for the principal, one of the many responsibilities she has as the administrative assistant who runs the school’s office.
What she found instead was a crowd cheering for her.
“I thought it was because I’d walked in to fix the media cart,” she said.
But then she began to notice the crowd of students, teachers and school staff also included district administrators and members of her family and she realized something more was going on.
The crowd had assembled to see her presented with the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation’s Golden Apple Award, which are presented annually to three Corvallis teachers and one school staff member.
“This was 100 percent a surprise for me,” she said.
In past years, the awards have been given at the back-to-school rally for school staff in September.
That longtime practice changed last year: Liv Gifford, the foundation's executive director, was new in the job last year and didn't have time to set up the award presentations at the rally. She ended up setting events at the schools where Golden Apple winners were employed, and working to make the presentations a surprise. The format was well-received, so Gifford decided to continue it this year.
Amanda Filloy Sharp, a Corvallis High School dual immersion teacher, and Sarah Thompson, a Lincoln Elementary School English language learner teacher, were ambushed last week with their own Golden Apple Awards. One award remains to be presented later this week.
The Golden Apples were created by the late Corvallis philanthropist Mario Pastega, who established an endowment that gives the winners a cash award.
Ryan Noss, Corvallis’ superintendent, spoke at the award presentation for Kunke.
“Every time you come to College Hill, she knows you by name,” he said. “It’s always friendly and welcoming because of Kathee.”
Eric Wright, College Hill’s principal, said Kunke wears many hats, everything from welcoming students into the building each day and putting up and taking down the school’s flags — not to mention fixing that balky media cart.
“We know you love us, so it’s fun to be able to tell you we love you too,” he said.
Logan Barnett, a sophomore in the urban farm program, gave Kunke a hug after she received the award. He said before coming to College Hill he struggled in school, but Kunke was immediately welcoming and greeted him by name from the first week.
“That means so much to me,” he said. “Just her being there helps so many people and it does help me,” he said. Barnett said Kunke asks him about activities he’s involved in and remembers what they talk about so she can ask follow-up questions the next time she sees him.
“She does it without even trying because she’s just that giving … she holds everyone (at the school) together,” he said.
Kunke has been at College Hill for 10 years, and said she was honored by the award. She said College Hill is small enough that it allows her to get to know each student, which makes her work meaningful.
“I love working with students. I’m here because of the students. They are all unique and I love them for different reasons.”