Congratulations to SSD Superintendent Benjamin Picard and Columbia Middle School’s Mary Grace Votran who will be recognized at this year’s State of the City event on September 14th! This annual event recognizes exceptional members of our community and attracts more than 1,000 Sunnyvale residents. It includes the Mayor’s State of the City address, community awards presentation, live entertainment, children’s activities, and other fun, family-friendly activities.
Dr. Picard will be recognized as this year’s Distinguished Resident of the Year and Mary Grace Votran will be recognized as this year’s Outstanding Educator of the Year.
A common thread throughout Dr. Picard’s work is his commitment to the health and well-being of our community and every one of its members – a theme that he not only demonstrates through his volunteer roles, but has also as a leader of the ten-school district that serves children in our city. As superintendent, he has made it clear that students need to learn more than the academic basics: their well-being and that of our region depends on their ability to recognize and deal with their own feelings, understand how to respectfully interact with others, and bring compassion, acceptance, and civility to all groups of which they are a part. He has woven those expectations into the academic plans of each of the 6,000+ students he serves every day. Not only does Dr. Picard personally model tolerance, respect, and civility, and made them foundational imperatives district-wide, he has also spoken directly to parents about the importance of basing instruction on a foundation of these and similar values.
As superintendent, Dr. Picard has demonstrated his commitment to protecting and serving all district families through such actions as declaring Sunnyvale School District a sanctuary district protecting the rights of undocumented families and passing a resolution standing up for the rights of LGBTQ people. These actions punctuate the top-quality academic practices he has instilled in each of the schools in the district.
Dr. Picard joined the Sunnyvale School District in 1987. He served as Associate Superintendent of Personnel and Business Services, Associate Superintendent of Business Services, and Deputy Superintendent of Administrative Services prior to his appointment to Superintendent in 2009.
In the 1990s, Dr. Picard served on the initial planning committee that conceived and launched a unique public-private collaborative with the District, the City of Sunnyvale and a local company to build the Columbia Neighborhood Center (CNC), a school-based community center that delivers recreational, health, and educational services to students and their families.
Each year the CNC provides more than 1,600 hours of counseling, medical services to over 2,300 residents, nearly 19,000 hours of community education, and over 54,000 hours of recreation and enrichment. Dr. Picard continues to support the CNC through his involvement and advocacy with the CNC’s Joint Task Force.
Among Dr. Picard’s other innovative programs are the Sunnyvale Wellness Program, a team of over 15 partners who support staff and student wellness, nutrition and health; and Our Kids Our Community, a partnership with Sunnyvale Community Services and the Sunnyvale Rotary Club which raises money to cover costs for the summer nutrition program that ensures children who depend on meals during the school year don’t go hungry over the summer break. In recent years, he has also spearheaded cultural proficiency and equity initiatives in the District.
Chief Phan S. Ngo of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety said, “I have had the opportunity to work with many educators over the course of my 30-year law enforcement career, and I rank Dr. Ben Picard as one of the best educators in Santa Clara County. Not only is he visible in the community, he truly cares and invests his passion and energy in ensuring that our youth receive the education that they deserve. His work goes beyond his official role as an educator, as he is involved in many community causes that enrich our Sunnyvale community. He is a role model for all Sunnyvale residents.”
Mary Grace truly embodies the meaning of the word “educator.” On a daily basis, she shows students that she knows each is capable of learning, expects them to do their best work, and will provide all the support they need along the way. She embraces challenges as teaching moments, and has created such a caring classroom community that even the most reluctant learner looks forward to coming to class each day.
Mary Grace first joined the Sunnyvale School District in 2011 as a teacher. She quickly rose to the leadership role of instructional coach, helping veteran teachers hone their skills and share their best teaching practices. She also served as a mentor to new teachers. She returned to the classroom to teach in 2018.
Mary Grace is a rock star in the classroom, and the epitome of a “warm demander.” Students know she cares about them, and that’s because she truly does care about them. She doesn’t tolerate anything less than their best.
Mary Grace is responsive to student and staff needs. She has modified the school’s reading intervention program to ensure students are invested and engaged. She created a new English Language Support class for long-term English learners that allow them to practice language skills through topics such as identity, grit, and goals. Other teachers look to Mary Grace as a model and source of support.
Mary Grace feels immense ownership and responsibility for her students’ growth. She regularly looks at student data and alters course accordingly. There is no time wasted in Mary Grace’s class as students are continuously pushed to be better than they were the day before. For many students, Mary Grace’s classroom is their “home away from home” as she has created a community that supports each other, and is responsible for each other.
Mary Beth Allmann, Principal of Columbia Middle School, said “Mary Grace is the epitome of a warm demander, ensuring every student knows she loves them for who they are and the unique strengths they have, and because she loves them, she will accept nothing but their best. As a result of the caring community and high expectations in her classroom, even the most reluctant learners take academic risks and try their best because they believe in her, and through their effort and her support, they then begin to believe in themselves as learners.”
The State of the City will held on Sept. 14 in downtown Sunnyvale on Murphy Avenue from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.