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insignia“The main thing is that I appreciate the opportunity to be selected as the best company to work for,” said Dr. Crit Caton, superintendent of the Artesia Public Schools.

The APS system employs more than 425 people throughout 10 different campuses and the administration, and “they all care about kids,” Caton said. “It’s a great place to work. I’ve always said that it’s not about any one person, it’s a team effort.”

Those employees joined together this year to vote the APS as the Best Company to Work For in the Best of Artesia contest. The fact they did so even in the face of challenging times and difficulties with state policies and regulations means a lot to the administration and school board.

“One of the things that we’ve learned over the years is that the administration of this system really has to take care of their employees and their students,” said Artesia Public Schools Board of Education President Lowell Irby. “The administration never hides the money, we always try to take care of the employees as best we can within the boundaries of what (the Public Education Department) lets us do. The state regulates that so much that it makes it very difficult for us at times to do what we want to do, and (the employees) understand that.

“We hope they know that when the money is there, we will absolutely give it to them as much as we can as quick as we can, because we know that they are entitled to it. We don’t like the way that the system is set up right now, and we are working to make changes to that so that we can have some control over the way the funding is spent.”

Irby also said the slow turnaround among administrators is a testament to the district’s success.

“Over the years, we have had people that come here and stay here their whole career,” Irby said. “Mike Phipps was here 20 years as superintendent, Dr. Caton has been here a long time, and we have many employees that spend their whole career here.”

Caton says he is always impressed with the dedication and passion he sees from the APS staff, from maintenance staff to teachers to custodians and cafeteria workers.

“I think that is what makes Artesia Public Schools special is that value that we all share in caring for our kids,” he said.

Mary Chavez, APS cafeteria manager, discusses what she enjoys about working for the schools. APS was voted Best Company to Work For in this year’s Best of Artesia contest. (Teresa Lemon - Daily Press)

Mary Chavez, APS cafeteria manager, discusses what she enjoys about working for the schools. APS was voted Best Company to Work For in this year’s Best of Artesia contest. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

Caton has been with the APS for 26 years, beginning as a teacher/coach at Zia Intermediate School. He then moved to Artesia High School as a biology teacher and to Hermosa Elementary School as principal for 10 years before briefly moving away. Caton went to Ft. Sumner for a year and “missed it so much that I moved back.”

“When I moved back, I was the junior high principal for one year and the high school principal for five, and then assistant superintendent to Phipps for two and now five-and-a-half as superintendent,” he said.

Irby says staff members that come back to Artesia are very interesting to him in that they go to school here, graduate, go off, get married, have kids, and then choose to return to Artesia to teach, often spending their entire career here because they want their children raised in the APS system.

“This speaks volumes about our system,” he says. “People tell me all the time what a teacher has done for them and their kids. There have to be other good districts, but I don’t know who they are. Every time (the board) does something, we try to take care of every person that we can and we try to make sure that all of the students and staff have access to everything they need.”

Caton stressed how he appreciates the time and commitment the employees put in on a daily basis and the drive they have to make each student successful in life.

“That’s our mission – to grow young men and women so that they are productive citizens once they graduate from Artesia High School,” he says.

When told APS was voted Best Company to Work For, the first words out of Mary Chavez’s mouth were, “I have to agree with that. It’s a wonderful place to work. The kids are fantastic; all the staff are just wonderful.”

Chavez has worked for the APS for more than 23 years and is currently the cafeteria manager at Artesia High School.

“Artesia Public Schools employees are valued and are a part of a great organization of committed employees and administrators who work as a team,” said Jessie Olivas, bilingual/Spanish language arts teacher at AHS. “Throughout our district, people are ready to help one another in times of need. It is not a perfect organization but it is a group of people willing to make mistakes and learn from them and grow from experience. Artesia schools pride themselves in excellent relationships throughout our community. Thank God for people who are hard workers and dedicated to being a team.”

“I have had the great privilege of working for the APS for almost my entire career in education,” said Tammy Davis, principal at Central Elementary School. “I have held several different positions and worked with a number of leaders, including Warren Nell, Mike Phipps and Crit Caton. Each of these men were committed to making Artesia schools second to none. One thing has remained constant through all of the years and each of these leaders, and that is unwavering support.

“The Artesia Public Schools are family. We work very hard together and we celebrate together. At times we cry and grieve together. There has never been a circumstance in which I felt I was fighting a battle alone. It is an amazing blessing to go to work every day and to know that no matter what happens it is all going to be okay because of the strength of the Artesia Public Schools educational team.”

“Everyone will tell you that Dr. Caton or any of the administration is the reason that working at APS is so wonderful,” said Dusty Bean, health teacher/coach at AHS. “All of that is true, but what is better than any of those individuals are the students that we teach. You’ve heard it said that Artesia kids are the best kids, but even saying that doesn’t get the point across.

“I have taught in APS for eight years now. I have coached and taught about a thousand different students and can tell you that I wouldn’t trade one of them. Are Artesia kids perfect? No, but they have been raised very well. They are respectful, kind, honest (for the most part), and hard working. They don’t back down from a challenge and always strive for perfection. So you ask why is it so great working at APS? Well, I’d just say, ‘It’s great to be a Bulldog!’ Great job, parents; you have the best kids.”

“It’s those folks that get the job done on a daily basis that help those kids succeed in life overall, and I appreciate the many extra hours that they put in,” says Caton. “We are fortunate to have such a great staff.”

“It’s not something (the board) did, it’s what the administrators do to look out for everyone,” says Irby. “You hear (the administrators) talk and it’s always, ‘What can we do for the staff, what can we do for the kids,’ and that’s what is really important. And that’s what makes our system maybe a lot different from some of the others, because we don’t hear that everywhere.”