When Pioneer High School Principal Jason Zona asked students to describe Conny Hernandez in the front office, they said things like, “She’s like a mom to everyone,” and “She always has a smile on her face.”
While he was impressed by the things they had to say, he also was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm.
“They were jumping out of their seats to say why they love Conny,” he said. “I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with them.”
The students were validated this week when Hernandez was named the Carson City School District Classified Employee of the Year. She was chosen from among employees selected as best at sites throughout the district.
“I was very surprised,” she said. “There are a lot of people here in this district who do so much and work so hard. It never even entered in my mind that my name would be called.”
Hernandez started working at Pioneer High School in 1999, just a year after it opened, as a part-time English-as-a-second-language classroom aide. The next year, she took over as the front office specialist. Three principals and 13 years later, she is still there, doing a little bit of everything including secretary and receptionist work along with school registrar and counselor and, as some students said, “mom.”
“I know all the kids,” she said. “I know all the parents. That’s what I strive for.”
When Hernandez started working at Pioneer, with then-principal Charles Keller, the alternative school was included as part of Carson High School.
“It wasn’t its own school, it was just a program,” she said. “I watched it grow from 50 kids to our current enrollment of 189. The classes have grown, the opportunities have grown so much since we first opened up.”
Hernandez said parents are often frustrated with the system by the time the get to Pioneer .
“I try to put them at ease, build a rapport with them,” she said.
As a wife and mother to her own three grown children, she said, she feels comfortable around the students.
“Being a mother, I just feel like I want to take all of the kids home,” she said. Zona said Hernandez eased his transition when he took over as principal six years ago.
“She was a big help,” he said. “I learned a lot from her about what was already going on.”
The school, he said, would not be the same without her.
“Conny is a huge reason why our school has been so successful,” Zona said. “The students feel like they’re cared for a and they come back.”