Peggy Pappani stands inside the new Live Oak High School theater

Each secretary’s life touches so many other lives. Looking back
on executive secretary Peggy Pappani’s career in Morgan Hill
Unified, it’s easy to see how far her reach has been.
Each secretary’s life touches so many other lives.

Looking back on executive secretary Peggy Pappani’s career in Morgan Hill Unified, it’s easy to see how far her reach has been. Pappani retires today after working 43 years in Morgan Hill Unified School District. She received the 2009 “Magnificent Seven” Outstanding School Employees award from the northern region of the California Association of School Business Officials.

For decades, behind many a great Morgan Hill school leader was “Miss Peggy.”

Her 1960s class brought an old-school dignity to her career, which touched principals like Irene Macias-Morriss and districtwide leaders like Deputy Superintendent Bonnie Tognazzini and inspired clerks and secretaries throughout the district.

“She’s a treasure, and she will really, really be missed,” Tognazzini said. Pappani has served as Tognazzini’s executive secretary for the last five years.

She got her start in Morgan Hill Unified School District in 1967. Pappani graduated from business college with a degree in secretarial science and the San Martin native, whose mother was a district bus driver for 25 years, took a clerical typist position at now-closed Burnett Elementary School. The school then had 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“I look back now and wonder, why did I think I could do that?” Pappani said, laughing.

Through the years, the polished and poised Pappani was everyone’s second mother, from students to newbie assistant principals.

“I told them that the first year I was their mom. The second year I was their friend. And the third year I was their secretary, and they’d sure as heck better know what they’re doing,” Pappani joked.

Pappani said secretaries are often unsung heroes who fulfill vital roles in keeping schools and administrations running smoothly.

“They know their way around the school. You’re an extension of their classroom” and fulfill duties so that the flow of the classroom day isn’t disrupted, she said.

Pappani worked at Gwinn and P.A. Walsh elementary schools and Britton Middle School before moving to the district office to work as an executive secretary. Along the way, Pappani took a break for nine years while she raised her two children, Beth and Eddie.

“(The moves) gave me a shot in the arm. I have enjoyed moving and meeting people in the community,” she said. “I’ve always felt it was important that people grow, not only as a person but as an employee,” Pappani said.

Debbie Amaya, now a staff secretary in the district’s human resources department, says Pappani was an inspiration to her. Amaya first worked with Pappani at Britton Middle School in 1995. Pappani taught Amaya how to use a copy machine, and embodied the respect and responsibility that comes with office work.

“Her work ethics are so high. She can do nothing but make other people’s work ethics high. She just has this air about her … I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for her influence back at Britton,” Amaya said. The two went their separate ways but both eventually ended up working at the district office.

“She hasn’t changed. Over all the years, the way the district changed, she has never changed. She’s always stuck to a certain standard.”

When budget cuts left Tognazzini in charge of the district’s construction department, Pappani was there to lend support. She ushered scads of paperwork through various regional and state departments to see Live Oak High School’s Little Theater renovation project to completion.

Carla Jones, a facilities worker, said Pappani took the reins of the project.

“She was excellent. They were kind of thrown into it, and they just took it over tremendously,” Jones said. “She’s the one who had to learn it for everybody and give direction, on the construction, on the process and everything like that. She’s a very good teacher.”

Pappani said taking on the construction division was an “extreme learning curve” for her and Tognazzini and the complexities of the renovation were a crash course in state protocols.

“Bonnie entrusted me with that. There were hundreds of documents, and I had to keep track of them all,” Pappani, who credits former superintendent Dr. Alan Nishino for his vision to renovate the theater, said.

Tognazzini said Pappani is irreplaceable.

“She was my sister, and my mother and my friend and my counselor. She was everything.”

Jones said Pappani was an anchor for the school district.

“She has been here so many years. She knows the families for generations,” Jones said. “Nobody will have her knowledge, her history. She will be really missed.”

Pappani said while a lot has changed in public education over the years, the basics have remained the same.

“There are different ways, different means to achieve educational goals yet they all come back to the same thing: we want the kids to thrive and learn and graduate,” she said.

Pappani will spend much of her time in San Diego, visiting with her children. Eddie and his wife Debra have a daughter, six-month-old Taylor, who is Pappani’s first grandchild. She and her husband Jim, who retired from the avianics industry, might travel to Australia in the coming year.

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