Two Ector County ISD School Nutrition team members have been recognized for their work this year with employee of the year awards.

Director Brandon Reyes won the professional employee of the year honors and Vuthy Thong, in warehouse delivery, is the school nutrition employee of the year. They were recently surprised by a delegation of ECISD administrators and Reyes’ wife, Chelsea, with the laurels.

Thong has been with ECISD for three years, starting in 2018. His job is to make sure he gets food delivered to the schools that they order to meet the cafeteria needs.

When he’s not at the nutrition warehouse, Thong runs Wyatt’s Liquor.

Ector County Independent School District’s Vuthy Thong speaks about being selected as the ECISD School Nutrition Employee of the Year during an interview Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in the ECISD nutrition building. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

Originally from Cambodia, Thong moved to the U.S. about 40 years ago and went straight into high school without knowing English. “But I only understood math because math is the same thing,” he said.

Thong worked for Amazon in Tracy, Calif., prior to moving to Texas. He said he was thrilled when he realized he was getting the School Nutrition Employee of the Year recognition.

“Vuthy mentioned that he was surprised. I wasn’t. He’s very reliable, dependable, honest. He does whatever he’s asked and that’s a big deal,” Reyes said.

Reyes will mark five years with ECISD Sept. 1. Like Thong, he was also stunned by the recognition and said it wasn’t even on his radar.

“My wife knew about it the day before,” Reyes said, adding that she is the director of guidance and counseling.

Brandon Reyes speaks about being selected as the ECISD Professional Employee of the Year during an interview Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in the ECISD nutrition building.(Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

Before becoming director, Reyes was the buyer for school nutrition.

“We issue our own bids, and RFPs (requests for proposals). There are two sides to school nutrition. You have the business operation side and you have the kitchen operations and menu planning,” Reyes said.

“School nutrition programs basically can be broken down into those two overarching sections. The business side is everything from supply chain, procurement, payroll and invoice, kitchen operations and menu planning. Menu development, it sounds easy, but it’s more probably one of the hardest things. And of course, just a regular kitchen operations piece as well. Those are completely big and separate. I worked basically on the business side of school nutrition, so to speak, relative to the nutrition side. It’s a different perspective as a director than somebody who comes from the menu planning and kitchen operations side; a different mindset,” Reyes added.

Reyes and Thong said winning the award will spur them to work harder. Reyes said it made him feel as though he was on the right track and that he should model how to conduct himself.

Reyes oversees 142 employees, and as the director, he supervises the business and kitchen operations.

“Starting in school year ‘21-22, we’ll have the assistant director-business operations and the assistant director of kitchen operations and menu planning,” Reyes said.

He acknowledged that would take some of the load off him.

“Within the last 15 years, I think we’ve grown by about 7,000 or so students and we’ve only added one administrative position in our department,” Reyes said.

The nutrition department served more than 4.3 million meals this year. Reyes said 90 percent of those are delivered by four or five warehouse team members.

“You’re talking about 50 to 60 tons worth of food per week that we deliver to campuses throughout the district,” Reyes said.

ECISD Employee of the Year Awards

  • Counselor of the Year: Daniel Dorethy, Bowie Middle School.
  • Para-Professional of the Year: Sandra Pilger, Bowie Middle School.
  • Custodian of the Year: Susana Magallanes, Dowling Elementary
  • Police Department Employee of the Year: Leonard Hendon.
  • Professional of the Year: Brandon Reyes, Director of School Nutrition.
  • Transportation Employee of the Year: Laura Hinojosa.
  • Maintenance Employee of the Year: Henry “Rome” Kleck.
  • School Nutrition Employee of the Year: Vuthy Thong.

Earlier in May, Employee of the Year Awards went to:

  • Elementary Principal of the Year: Sherry Palmer, Carver Early Childhood Center.
  • Secondary Principal of the Year: Anthony Garcia, Wilson and Young Middle School.
  • Elementary Assistant Principal of the Year: Zealia Jenkins, Edward K. Downing Elementary.
  • Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year: Megan Watts, Permian High School.
  • Elementary Teacher of the Year: Sarah Hawkins, Travis Elementary.
  • Secondary Teacher of the Year: Cheryl Cunningham, Advanced Technical Center.
  • Nurse of the Year: Alan Pitt, Ector Middle School.