Are educational support staff appreciated?
You don’t have to be a rock star to have a chauffeur, cook, interpreter, and someone to clean up after you; you just have to be a school kid. From the minute they step on the school bus, students are pampered by teams of dedicated workers called classified staff. Called the fundamental backbone of the public school system by Governor Kulongoski, these 35,000 classified support staff, with their diverse talents, are committed to making every school day successful. Do they feel appreciated? From the response of three classified staff members interviewed by Salem Monthly, it appears they derive great satisfaction from their jobs.

Brendon Smith, Custodian, 8 years
Silverton High School.
Enrollment: 1300 students.
Duties: Clean buildings inside and out, monitor mechanical, electrical, and security systems.
Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight.  Works days in summer.

“At Schlador we have Classified Employees Week where the kids make banners with our names and give us treats and candy. And I feel appreciated by the teachers. They’re friendly to custodians because they know they have to rely on us. The administrators have been real good to me, too. They’re flexible about my schedule so I can attend school. I’m training to be a nurse. The custodian job is good, but it gets monotonous. I take pride in my work, but it’s frustrating that custodians don’t get compliments, yet we hear right away if something isn’t clean or isn’t done.

“Interacting with the kids keeps the job interesting. Even though I’m there after school, that’s when all the rehearsals and practices are going on. You’d be amazed at how many times I have to open a classroom or locker room because a kid has left something behind. I miss the kids in the summer. Summer is the time we do the heavy cleaning like scrubbing walls, re-finishing floors, washing windows, and cleaning gutters.

“This job has great benefits because of the union. If there’s a complaint, the union is there for you, making sure the school follows the rules.”  

Delores Martino, Cook III, 19 years
Independence Elementary.
Enrollment: 340 students.
Duties: Prepare, serve, and clean up breakfast and lunch.
Hours: Day starts at 6:15 a.m. Summers off.

“I don’t think people are aware of the importance of the school support staff. Classifieds don’t get enough recognition. When I see news articles about teacher-student ratios, I want to say, it’s not just the teachers who have to deal with big enrollments. What about the rest of us? I’m cooking for all those kids.

“I get along well with the teachers. They’re good about telling me when they’re having pizza parties so I can cut down on lunchroom food. And the principal respects my opinions about what and how much time the kids need to eat.

 “The kids are the best part of the job. Some kids show up in the cafeteria real early in the morning. I keep my roll-up window open so they can lean on the counter and talk to me. By eight o’clock I’m serving breakfast to 125 hungry kids. At lunch we have two mini-salad bars and I try to get the kids to take at least one fruit and one vegetable. Sometimes I disagree with the menus required by the state; the kids just won’t eat enchirito wraps.

“I could retire, but the union gets us good pay and benefits, plus I just love being around those kids.”

Michael Fierro, School Bus Driver
Special Programs, 3 years.
Salem-Keizer District
Duties: Pick up and drop off children with special needs.
Hours: Two or three shifts daily. Summers off.

“Bus drivers get a lot of thanks from parents; they recognize the effort we make to take care of their kids. Here at Transportation we have a “brag board” where thank-you notes are posted. Everyone appreciates that we keep the children safe.

“I know the names of every kid on my route and I greet them when they get on the bus. We sing and joke, but if they get too rowdy, I turn on the intercom and get their attention. This job calls for patience, being consistent and loving kids.

“Also we’re trained to be observers. I look at what they’re wearing, what they’re saying. When teachers meet the bus, I tell them if one of the kids is having a rough morning. The best thing about this job is watching how the kids grow up from the beginning of the school year to the end.

“Drivers are responsible for keeping their buses clean inside and out. I’m good about returning sweaters and book bags that the kids forget. I take pride in my bus. The only thing I don’t like is putting chains on the tires in bad weather.

“Drivers have great benefits, especially medical and dental. The union has a good relationship here.”