The Dalles — Amidst smiles, laughter, and some tears, four individuals were awarded a $500 cash prize in the first-ever Golden Apple Awards, according to a press release.

The North Wasco County Education Foundation launched this new program to recognize and reward excellence in the D21 school district. Two teachers, one classified/support staff and one administrator or volunteer were selected from a pool of 52 nominees chosen by students, parents, staff, and others in the district.

Nominees came from every school in the district, including the two charter schools as well as the NORCOR education program. A committee of 10 people reviewed the nominees and selected the finalists.

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Chenowith Elementary School nominees and winner Janohn Clower.

Teachers/licensed staff winners

Janohn Clower, Chenowith Elementary School counselor

Clower received two nominations. Here is what one co-worker had to say: “Janohn is a remarkable, caring and highly capable person. Throughout the last year, Janohn has been a rock of stability for the students here at Chenowith. Each and everyday I see her reaching out to students with kind words. Finding those students that desperately need a smile or someone to just notice them. She was continually available to our students online during the entire pandemic. She established the ‘Cougar Den,’ a virtual safe place for kids to talk and congregate online throughout the days of distance learning. She kept the kids connected to the school and to each other in ways that were vital to their mental health and well-being. She is many times the calm before and after the storm. Her ability to help kids deal with emotions and find ways to better deal with a difficult situation is amazing. She is always looking for ways to help anyone she can. Additionally, she has been a sounding board and support for many adults here during this very trying time. Her leadership has been so helpful in finding a path forward for our school. She has been a part of the building leadership team and is always there to lend a hand in the classroom or wherever needed.”

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Mary Jo Commerford and D21 Board Members David Jones and Rebecca Thistlethwaite.

Mary Jo Commerford, The Dalles High School AP English and history teacher

Commerford also received two nominations from the community, including one from a co-worker who has an enormous amount of respect for her: “We are very lucky to have someone like Mary Jo. She wants our students from The Dalles to succeed in life. All the students that take her class know how impactful she is to us in this community. I am lucky to have her as a mentor. Mary Jo goes above and beyond!”

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Dry Hollow nominees and winner Pedro Mondragon.

Classified/support staff winner

Pedro Mondragon, Dry Hollow Elementary School, English language assistant

Mondragon is well-loved by the Dry Hollow community and humbly accepted his award, said a press release. His nominee has this to say about him: “Pedro has faithfully served in his position for many years here at Dry Hollow. I purposely use the word ‘served’ because when I think of Pedro, I think of one with the heart of a servant. Pedro is one who would never draw attention to himself. He puts the needs of others before his own. In his role as an EL assistant, the students benefit from his quiet, calm, support which communicates acceptance and care for each one he interacts with. I believe Pedro Mondragon is exemplary of the role of what an assistant truly could aspire to be. In his day to day faithfulness to support the students and staff, he has been an inspiration to me over the years. I have learned much from Pedro, as a fellow classified assistant.”

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Mosier Community School nominees with Thistlethwaite.

Other (administration, department head or volunteer) winner

Laura Kahler, volunteer at Mosier Community School

Kahler is a native of Mosier who moved back in 2014 so that her children could be raised in the friendly, small town, is a tireless volunteer for the charter school and also serves on its board of directors, said a press release. Her nominee had this to say: “Laura started volunteering at MCS the moment she moved back to Mosier ... I can’t possibly count all the ways she has volunteered, but she helps with the garden club, is helping to build a school green-house, helps with fundraising, ran a successful Earth Day fundraiser, served on the fundraising committee, and has served on the MCS board of directors since 2018. She also helps with the parent’s committee, helps in and around the classrooms, art projects, and more. I cannot possible quantify the amount of volunteering she does for MCS, it’s almost like a full-time job for her (without pay!). She does it all with kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion, and a smile.”


The Education Foundation thanks all of those who took the time to nominate someone special and to the 52 nominees for their service, dedication, and care for the children of our community, said a press release.

To learn more about the Education Foundation or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit