August 12, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) announced five finalists for the West Virginia School Service Personnel of the Year Award. All finalists serve their counties as the 2020 County Service Personnel of the Year and include aides, bus operators, cooks, custodians, maintenance workers, office workers and other school service personnel from across the state. This year’s finalists are Gail Artimez, Marshall County Schools; Stephanie Bennett, Upshur County Schools; Debra Dye, Wirt County High School, Wirt County; Susie Kirkpatrick, Gilmer County Schools; and Stephanie Toliver, Nitro Elementary School, Kanawha County. The announcement was made during the August meeting of the West Virginia Board of Education.

“Our school service personnel have played an extremely important role this year to serve our children during the pandemic,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch. “They made sure our children were safe, fed and they were often the one caring adult who kept them connected to the schools. I am honored to recognize this year’s finalists and to personally thank them for their service.”

Gail Artimez is the Executive Secretary of Transportation in Marshall County. Artimez began her career in the school system as a volunteer and has worked as a substitute secretary, high school secretary and now executive secretary of transportation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she stepped up to face the many challenges and assigned bus routes and drivers for food delivery. Artimez’s role was key to the success of feeding 1,500 Marshall County students weekly. When not working in the central office, she donates her time, talent and materials to work with students in the John Marshall Caring Card Club. This group makes cards for local veterans and soldiers serving overseas. She also volunteers at local soup kitchens and nursing homes.

Stephanie Bennett is the Coordinator of Services and Payroll Supervisor in Upshur County. Bennett began her career with Upshur County Schools as a substitute employee in 2002. Since then, she has earned several state certifications and served as coordinator of services, secretary, accountant, auditor, aide and supervisor of transportation. While working in these roles, Bennett obtained an associates degree from Pierpont Community and Technical College. During the pandemic, she picked up food from local vendors, loaded and rode the buses for meal delivery and assisted with parent calls and logistics.

Debra Dye is a Supervisory Aide at Wirt County High School. Her employment in the school system began as a cook. She then moved to an aide position working specifically in a special education classroom. When Dye was nominated as the county finalist, the committee received a multitude of letters of support from colleagues, students and parents. Dye not only teaches students how to perform necessary daily tasks like folding laundry and cooking, but she also fosters creativity through art projects. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has made bags of food and hygiene products for students, and assisted in distributing them. Dye also delivered several bags to students’ homes, including those who were not in her classroom.

Susie Kirkpatrick is a bus operator for Gilmer County Schools. She began her career at Gilmer County Schools as a substitute bus operator and came to love the job and the students who relied on her. This year marks 36 years as a full-time bus operator for Kirkpatrick, who drives her day run, morning/afternoon career center run, and an evening activity bus every day. To make all of these trips without any accidents during her career speaks highly of her more than 30 years of service. As an EMT in Gilmer County, Kirkpatrick also finds time to teach first aid and CPR to all school staff. She enjoys her roles as an athletic trainer for Gilmer County’s sports teams and a safety presenter to elementary school children with “Buster the School Bus.” Throughout the pandemic, Kirkpatrick has driven her school bus routes to help feed students and make home visits. Because of her concern, she often called students if they failed to pick up their meals just to make sure they were okay.

Stephanie Toliver is a classroom aid at Nitro Elementary School in Kanawha County. For 15 years, Toliver has been a valuable employee in the special education classrooms. When students in Toliver’s class had two substitute teachers this year, she assumed many roles to ensure the class would continue their instruction without interruption. Toliver is an active member of the Local School Improvement Council and prides herself in being involved with every school event, popcorn day, graduation, backpack snack distribution and more. Her love for her students is evident in the way she fixes their hair, cleans their faces, provides them with clean clothes and ensures that each of them has attire for the fifth grade recognition banquet.

This year, 36 applications were submitted for consideration for West Virginia Service Personnel of the Year. The five finalists, along with county service personnel of the year winners, will be honored during a virtual service in conjunction with the West Virginia Teacher of the Year Program.

Details about the West Virginia Service Personnel of the Year Program can be found at