Laguna Beach USD names 2021-22 employee of the year


Megan Bhaskaran was named Teacher of the Year and Kelli Merda was named Ranked Employee of the Year earlier this month. Courtesy of LBUSD

A social studies teacher and human resources assistant from the Thurston Middle School district have been selected as the 2021-2022 Employee of the Year for the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

Megan Bhaskaran was named Teacher of the Year and Kelli Merda was named Ranked Employee of the Year earlier this month. The two women were surprised by staff with balloons and a personalized banner after being elected by colleagues from across the school district.

“Since joining the Thurston family, Megan has proven to be an open, collaborative and thoughtful staff member who naturally contributes to the positive culture and climate in our community,” said the middle school principal. of Thurston, Joe Vidal, in a press release.

Eight years ago, the UC Irvine alumna helped students at Thurston start a Model United Nations program, which is historically more popular among high schools. Two to three students from the Model UN program at Laguna Beach High School help Bhaskaran lead the Thurston program, which is available as an elective course.

Schools statewide are assigned a country and research how that nation’s government responds to real-world policy questions. They then present to a simulation of the United Nations General Assembly. The best schools move on to national competitions.

His interest in international affairs stems in part from his two-year stint with the United States Peace Corps in Saint Lucia.

Last year, Thurston was posted to Indonesia and studied the refugee crisis in Myanmar and the use of child labor in South East Asia. Students report that family members are often amazed at how knowledgeable they seem when they talk about political issues around the kitchen table.

“It’s moments like this that are really special. You can tell it impacted them and their future, ”Bhaskaran said.

Besides the United Nations model, the Oceanside resident is also passionate about providing excellent education to English learners and working with special education teachers.

“This is what I always wanted to do. I have had amazing teachers who have had a great impact on me, with whom I am still in contact. I wanted to be that person for the students, ”Bhaskaran said.

At the district office, Merda wears a few essential hats. She acts as a receptionist for anyone passing through the front doors of the district office. Merda also serves as the Visiting Teacher Coordinator, a role more important than ever as teachers go sick for exposure to COVID-19 and other illnesses.

After six years with the district, Merda said being chosen by her peers was a lesson in humility.

“It is difficult to ensure that all of our teachers’ absences are covered,” she said. “Fortunately, we have a great replacement pool. We have [guest teachers] who work here every day.

There has been a shortage of visiting teachers statewide as many have chosen to retire, stay home with young children, or take other positions during the pandemic. Those who continually show up for Laguna Beach students are assured that someone will always be there to help them, Merda said.

“Kelli plays a critical role in coordinating day-to-day student support by working with sites to ensure vacancies are filled. She thinks creatively to complete this daily staffing puzzle while being the face of the district office greeting staff and community members with a warm smile, ”said Mike Conlon, Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources, in A press release.

Laguna Beach Unified also recognized Employees of the Year in specific categories, including Doug Bowman for Child Care, Maintenance, Nutrition and Safety; Elizabeth Phillips for health and student services; and Margaret Warder for the paraprofessional and educational assistant.

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