Employee of the Month Gil Gaona: From Veteran Educator to CSSS Standard-Bearer


April 6, 2023 by HCDE Communications

What does it take to be a standard-bearer? Gil Gaona, Harris County Department of Education’s April Employee of the Month, will tell you it takes great customer service, impeccable organization skills, and a friendly demeanor.

Yet, his colleagues will say so much more.

“Gil is the employee of the month not because it’s his goal to be the employee of the month, but because it’s his goal to have excellence,” said colleague and School Safety and Security Specialist Janice Owolabi.

As the administrative assistant for the Center for Safe and Secure Schools, Gaona serves as the “anchor” for the team making sure that everything behind the scenes gets done—and to his standards. He is tasked with putting together contracts, organizing and setting up events, and supporting CSSS colleagues on and offsite.

“I do a little bit of everything, but I make sure that everything happens and happens correctly. And by correctly, I mean that the needs of clients are taken care of. It’s all about the experience,” said Gaona. “A building is just a building, but they have to have a good time in that building. Otherwise, they’re not going to come back or say good things about the building or the people that work in that building. It’s all about service. That’s how you hook them.”

Impeccable work standards and cheerful demeanor have earned Gaona a reputation as a beloved, dedicated teammate at HCDE and beyond.

“It’s my job to take care of every little detail, and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability because I have a good work ethic,” said Gaona.

Gil Gaona, center, poses for a photo with colleagues from the Education and Enrichment Division.

“Well, the interesting thing is the ‘Gil stamp of approval’ has permeated across HCDE and our clients, because we deal a lot with contracts. I’ll tell our clients, ‘I’m sending it up, but Gil has to approve it first and then he will follow up with you.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to mess up with Gil!’” laughs Owolabi. “The wrath of Gil is marketable, but it’s always done in a wonderful way. He makes our clients happy and gets us repeat business.”

And that repeat business combined with streamlined systems finessed by Gaona has had a big impact on the CSSS’ bottom line.

“Getting contracts through was difficult before Gil,” said Owolabi. “We went from generating $250,000 to $689,000. That’s three times the revenue that we had before! He allowed us to be more flexible and act, respond, and execute faster. Personally, knowing that our contracts are in Gil’s good hands freed up my mind to help to deliver a higher quality product.”

Gaona, who joined the Department in 2019, is not just a beloved colleague. He is also a beloved veteran educator. Before HCDE, he was a Spanish teacher for 20 years who began his career at Laredo ISD and Groesbeck ISD. Eventually, he settled into North Shore High School in Galena Park ISD where he remained for 16 years.

For 18 of his 20 years in education, he was also the student council advisor, providing students like him with opportunities and experiences they would otherwise not have. Now through his work at HCDE, Gaona has had the opportunity to reconnect with many former students who are now educators themselves.

“When I was still with the Teaching and Learning Center (now called the Center for Educator Success), we did one of the Early Childhood Winter Conferences virtually because of COVID. In one of the sessions, I saw a chat message come through for me and it was one of my former students from North Shore. It’s nice to see that my former students have blossomed and that I played a role of some sort in their success.”

For Gaona, longstanding connections like these are relationships he nurtures and holds dear.

“I text people every morning, ‘Good morning.’ There are at least 48 to 50 of them that I send. It probably takes me about 20 minutes by the time I’m done with all of them,” he said. “I send all of them to people all over the state of Texas and some HCDE employees as well. Some of these people I don’t see often, but that’s how we stay in contact. I have friends from my elementary school days to whom I send a message every morning. It makes me feel good for them to know that someone’s wishing them a good morning or a good day.”

Two special people among his many friends are HCDE employees Rosa Murillo and Lili Maldonado.

“All my coworkers are family to me. I owe a lot to Rosa and Lili because, without them, I may not be here,” said an emotional Gaona. “When I first started working at TLC, they were always checking their blood pressure. The day I finally gave in to their pressure about checking my blood pressure, it was really high. So I set up a doctor’s appointment. That’s how we found my cancer. Had they not pushed and prodded, we may not have found the cancer in time. So I call them my life savers.”

Today, Gaona is cancer-free and embraces the rich relationships and meaningful work he does for the CSSS.

“I love what our division does because what our division does is take care of children,” said Gaona. “And what I love about working at HCDE are the people. I’m going to have friends no matter where I work. But it’s the people here. The people are nice, they’re supportive, and they’re helpful. And I like what I do. Everybody always asks me, ‘When are you going to retire?’ I say till I keel over because I enjoy what I’m doing. I like organizing events, and I’ll keep doing it as long as my brain allows me to.”

3 thoughts on “Employee of the Month Gil Gaona: From Veteran Educator to CSSS Standard-Bearer

  1. Lili says:

    Congratulations amigo! Very well deserved,

  2. Guadalupe Chavez says:

    So inspiring to read all that this man has done and continues to do. You go Gil!

  3. […] is Gil Gaona, the administrative assistant for the Center for Safe and Secure Schools and the April Employee of the Month. For him, the Celebration of Excellence is about more than receiving […]

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