The direct beneficiaries of Susie Guest’s current efforts are not yet capable of writing letters of nomination and recommendation on her behalf. But there is no shortage of people who are familiar with her work, past and present, and were eager to support her as a candidate for the Friend of Children Award bestowed upon her by the Iowa School Social Workers Association at the organization’s annual conference on October 27th.

Guest is the Early Childhood Programs Administrator for Des Moines Public Schools, overseeing preschool programming for approximately 2,000 students districtwide. She has spent her entire 31-year career committed to the children of Des Moines as a teacher, special education consultant and principal in addition to her present position in charge of the district’s increasingly vital preschool program.

When Guest was nominated for the ISSWA honor last May by DMPS social workers Tracey Campo-Westergaard and Heidi Valdez, a wide range of others rallied to the cause, from teachers at Smouse Opportunity School (where Guest formerly served as principal) like Roberta Brookes to school board member Cindy Elsbernd to DMPS Superintendent Tom Ahart.

“From the moment I met Susie I knew there was something different and special about her,” Brookes wrote, in part.

Elsbernd’s recommendation noted that “Susie also works to influence and advocate for policy change to positively impact not only our preschool program at Des Moines Public Schools, but for programs across the state of Iowa, and especially those serving children living in poverty.”

Ahart struck a similar tone. “Susie has been an invaluable support in our district’s efforts to find more resources for preschool programming. She has been a magician in stretching our multiple preschool funding sources to provide comprehensive services to as many children as possible,” he said in his letter.

Those are just samples from a dossier of endorsements that paint a picture of someone who is equally adept at reassuring families and pressuring bureaucrats, someone for whom the Friend of Children Award is probably overdue.

But, as with adequate funding for early childhood education, special education, student mental health services, etc. and all of the other needful causes Susie Guest has fought for over the last 31 years, better late than never.

“I am honored to be the recipient of the award,” said Guest. “It has always been my belief that education is about the whole child which includes all domains of learning including social/emotional development. There is a strong body of research connecting social/emotional development with academic achievement which I have witnessed throughout my career.”

Congratulations, Susie! Please be our Guest for many years to come.

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