Jeanette Straebler fought back emotion as she slowly made her way to the front of the gym.
Walking through a corridor of her fellow Dutchess BOCES team members cheering in her honor, though, it was an unwinnable fight.
Straebler was named the 2024 recipient of the Dutchess BOCES Employee Recognition Award for Teachers, receiving a certificate and a warm hug from past winner Erin Scott at the end of that long walk.
“The whole year, you think, ‘How can you help other people?’ And then all of a sudden it comes back, a big boom of people appreciating you,” she said afterward, getting choked up again.
She was one of five award winners announced at BOCES’ End-of-Year Employee Appreciation Celebration Thursday morning in the Salt Point Center gymnasium. Employees who have newly received tenure, recent retirees and those who have reached milestone years of service at BOCES were also highlighted.
The event served to put a punctuation mark on the 2023-24 academic year. Those educators who have the summer off were bid farewell until September, and other employees were reminded to take time to decompress in the coming months.
Dr. Jodi DeLucia, deputy superintendent, recapped the year by recalling memorable moments from the series of graduation ceremonies in recent weeks.
“The spirit of those ceremonies this year … were among the best ceremonies I have attended in 25 years. And that is because of all of you,” she said. “We’re all here with one purpose. And, believe me when I tell you that you’ve all met that purpose.”
She, Interim Superintendent Thomas Bongiovi and Dutchess BOCES Board of Education Vice President Gully Stanford each thanked the assembled staff members for making a difference with students and families.
“This collective success depends on the contributions of each and every one,” Stanford said.
Others Recognition Award winners included occupational therapist Kerry McMahon-O’Gorman, for the instructional support staff; senior program assistant for related services Barbara Donaghey, for clerical staff; Career and Technical Institute Principal Nick Millas for administrators; and graphic designer and public information officer Desiree Gagnon, for support staff.
A member of BOCES’ communications team, Gagnon was taking photos at the event. Before each award winner’s name was announced, last year’s honorees read a description of the winner’s responsibilities and attributes. As it became evident Gagnon was being described as the support staff winner, her hand went to her heart. Then she handed off her camera to a colleague just before her name was read.

“I’ve always put in 1,000 percent,” Gagnon said of her 13 years of service. “I don’t know – somebody noticed! It felt like that moment of recognition. … I was genuinely surprised.”

Gagnon, according to the description read by past instructional support staff winner Deanna Pillius, “is always willing to jump in and provide thoughts, guidance, training and a helping hand to everyone she works with, which expands the quality and capacity of her department.”
Donaghey “is polite, helpful and a problem-solver, and will offer solutions for a variety of issues that can surface on a daily basis,” past teacher winner Michelle Santini read. “She assists her coworkers and new employees at a moment’s notice and never skips a beat.”
McMahon-O’Gorman “is exceptionally experienced and knowledgeable in her role, and has worked successfully with many of our most challenging students. Her activities are always hands-on and creative, as she provides many of her own materials in an effort to make her sessions motivating and meaningful to all her students,” past instructional support winner Lisa Serlin read.
CTI Assistant Principal Brian Conte, last year’s winner among administrators, said Millas “has a deep understanding of how good schools function and has a natural ability to bring people together to discuss issues in a constructive and purposeful way to promote change.
Straebler, who coordinates the work-based learning program, “oversees and coordinates opportunities for students to participate in work-based learning, shadowing and internships with businesses all over the county,” Scott explained in her description, calling her “a tremendous asset to Dutchess BOCES.”
The Appreciation Celebration showcased the camaraderie shared by members of the BOCES team. As each name was read, be it simply recognizing someone who has been with BOCES for 20 years or someone moving on to retirement, coworkers cheered, clapped and, in some cases, stood in reverence. Toward the end, the room of several hundred employees sang “Happy Birthday” to Conte. Refreshments, including orange mini muffins made by the food services team, various granola and breakfast bars, fresh fruit, coffee and water were provided in the hallway adjacent to the gym.

“A recognition for one person is a recognition for everybody,” Straebler said of the importance of the event. “We do have good people here – dedicated. We’re so interdependent on each other. You can’t do it by yourself. You have to have the other people working with you.”

As Straebler spoke, she was interrupted several times by friends and fellow employees offering congratulations. To many, she incredulously asked, “Did you do this?” Most told her they didn’t have a hand in selecting the award, “but I would have!”