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Wall of Distinction Honorees 2024

The East Syracuse Minoa Education Foundation (ESMEF) honored four exceptional individuals as the 2024 inductees for the ESM Wall of Distinction last month. The inductees were (left to right in photo) Michael Scheibel (Class of 1977), Todd Zion (Class of 1993), Cheryl West (ESM Director of Counseling, Youth Development and Leadership) and Jason “Jay” Dardano (Class of 1994).

The Wall of Distinction, established to recognize distinguished alumni, staff, and community members of the ESM School District, serves as an inspiration emphasizing the importance of contributions to society, community or a profession. 

Jason "Jay" L. Dardano (Class of 1994)

Jason "Jay" Dardano (Class of ‘94), has exemplified dedication to community service as a firefighter and paramedic for more than 30 years.
In high school Jay served with the Minoa Fire Department, laying the foundation for a remarkable career. Subsequently, he worked as a firefighter and paramedic with the Minoa and Fayetteville Fire Departments and Rural Metro Medical Services in Syracuse.

He then served with the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority in Georgetown, Grand Cayman from 2004-2006. In 2010, he and his family moved to Las Vegas, NV where he served the City of Las Vegas as paramedic with American Medical Response. Since 2016, he has been employed with the Boulder City Fire Department in Nevada.

Jay's heroism reached its pinnacle in 2017, when his ambulance was first on the scene of the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival that left 59 dead and hundreds injured. Jay and his partner played a crucial role saving lives while providing medical attention to the injured.  

“I am humbled, honored, and pleasantly surprised to be nominated for this distinction. I did not choose my career path for personal recognition or celebration.  However, when someone does take notice, it reinforces the notion that I chose the correct path,” Jay said.

“We need to recognize those that do hard and thankless work day in and day out saving lives and taking care of all of us,” his nomination reads.

Michael H. Scheibel (Class of 1977)

Michael Scheibel (Class of ‘77), has dedicated his life to public service. His journey began in 1979 when, in his teens, he rescued a family from a burning building in East Syracuse. This act of bravery marked the beginning of a dedicated law enforcement career where he received numerous accolades for service and bravery.

After starting with the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office, Mike advanced to spend 35 years as a Trooper with the New York State Police. 

A member of the NYS Police scuba team, he has recovered drowning victims and conducted other underwater search operations. Mike volunteered in the aftermath of the TWA Flight 800 crash to search for remains. He helped secure infrastructure in New York City after 9/11 and restore order in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

His commitment to making the world a better place includes being a foster parent for at-risk babies with his wife, Barbara, and being a blood/platelet donor

“We couldn't possibly be prouder of Mike and the sacrifices, acts of bravery and continuous concern for the rest of humanity that have defined his life,” his nomination reads.

Dr. Todd Zion (Class of 1993)

Todd Zion, Ph.D. (Class of ‘93) has achieved remarkable success in the field of biotechnology. Todd’s contributions include over 40 patents and groundbreaking work while at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and with his two companies.

He co-founded SmartCells Inc., which developed a groundbreaking drug called SmartInsulin. The drug revolutionized the treatment of diabetes by detecting a person’s blood sugar level and releasing insulin as needed. Its sale to pharma giant Merck was one of the largest preclinical pharmaceutical acquisitions in history.

Todd then co-founded Akston Biosciences, where he is currently President, CEO and Chairman of the Board. The Massachusetts corporation specializes in bringing protein therapeutics through the major phases of development, faster, more cost-effectively and with a higher likelihood of success. This results in affordable, innovative medicines throughout the world. The company’s current focus is on therapeutics for companion animal health and quality-of-life.

“My journey owes a great deal to the rich education I received at ESM and the incredible teachers who not only imparted knowledge but also served as mentors and role models, shaping who I am today. It’s truly an honor to be recognized,” Todd explained.

Helping the next generation, Todd also serves as Associate Director at MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service and as an advisor to the Chemical Engineering departments at Cornell University and MIT.

Cheryl West (ESM Director of Counseling, Youth Development and Leadership)

Cheryl West has dedicated nearly three decades to the East Syracuse Minoa School District, currently serving as the Director of Counseling and Youth Development. Her journey began as a districtwide school counselor traveling between buildings, supporting staff as they addressed the evolving needs of students and their families.

Her foresight led to the establishment of student support counselors in each K-12 building under her supervision. Cheryl’s contributions also include the development of a districtwide crisis plan, advocacy for accessible mental health services and forging partnerships with community-based agencies to support at-risk children and their families.

Cheryl's dedication to address the diverse needs of students is evident in initiatives, including the coordination of holiday assistance programs, the establishment of mentoring programs and orchestrating an annual event that connects students with senior citizens. She seeks optimal outcomes for homeless students and those needing alternative education placements.

Through her ability to personally connect with students, staff, families and community agencies, Cheryl has created valuable relationships. She fosters a compassionate and supportive educational environment for all.

“I am truly honored and humbled by this recognition for the Wall of Distinction.  This award is a tribute to all of the families, students, colleagues and community members that have made my work both rewarding and enjoyable,” Cheryl said.