“Kids bring noise, happiness, and energy to schools and it’s somber here without them,” said Village Elementary office staff team member, Rachel Lozano.
Somber, but still very busy.
Lozano is in her 26th year at Coronado Unified School District and is part of a skeleton crew of office staff, custodians, instructional aides, librarians, and food service workers who have continued to work on-site throughout the pandemic.
This group of classified employees [non-teachers] are the unsung heroes that show up every day to facilitate the vital infrastructure to keep the school sites running. Their work ensures that education can continue whether teachers and students are doing their work on-site or remotely.
The government deemed school employees “essential workers” and the state passed a budget that included full funding to keep schools operating throughout the pandemic. While the majority of the public discourse focuses on whether or not teachers and students can be in-person, the rest of the staff are there every day on the frontline.
“A large number of our staff have been on-site during this entire pandemic, providing support to Admin and teachers, as well as providing child care for staff members,” said Marshall Redding, the chapter president of the Classified School Employees Association [CSEA] and CUSD technology department employee.
Without missing a beat since the March shutdowns, CUSD classified employees have pitched in, often taking on assignments out of their comfort level and normal job duties. Multi-tasking and rolling up their sleeves doing everything from preparing and distributing chromebooks for students and teachers, to providing in-house daycare, to trouble-shooting every unprecedented challenge.
“We purchase, distribute, and set up PPE [personal protection equipment]. We screen everyone coming on campus. We facilitate testing and material drop off/pick up and have distributed textbooks via appointment times for 1,050 students. We prepare the campus and classrooms for cohort return and provide technology support and substitute support,” said Coronado High School (CHS) Administrative Assistant Kim Quinlan. She and her co-workers in the CHS office also help families navigate Zoom and Power School [the district information system] issues, order transcripts, report absences and illness, and connect students and parents to school resources.
Quinlan and Lozano are both quick to point out the custodial and maintenance staff who keep the schools clean and safe for on-site staff and the eventual return of students. Both also praised the hard work of school librarians. “Our librarian has been overworked and underappreciated. She is amazing at her job,” said Quinlan about CHS Librarian Alanna Rickards.
Child Nutrition Services [CNS] Director Charity Johnson and her team are another group of classified staff who have been on site through the pandemic. They also worked through the summer when school cafeterias are normally closed. CNS staff prepare and package bags containing seven days worth of breakfast and lunch, then stand outside and distribute them every Monday via curbside pick-up. The meals are available to anyone under the age of 18 regardless of economic status or enrollment in the district. The CNS team has provided this weekly service non-stop since the schools shut down in March and distributed thousands of meals.
“It has definitely been a different year, but we have grown a lot as a team,” said Lozano, whose daily duties are best described as “everything.” As a veteran, this year she has also stepped up as a mentor and leader to new staff who find themselves on the front line.
Sitting in a room full of PPE, she reflected on the difference between this year and her previous 25 years in the district. “One of my favorite things is being around the kids. I love teaching kinder PE and being at recess. But I also enjoy making life easier for my [coworkers and teachers]. This year we need to think outside the box on ways to make work easier and a cheerier place.” Lozano is well-known at Village Elementary for directing morning traffic and welcoming students at curbside drop-off where her smile and energy are contagious. She is anxious to get the cohorts of students back as soon as possible.
“Mother nature has thrown curveball after curveball. We can’t stop it, we just have to adjust and go with the flow. I feel like my job is to come to work every day and make everyone else’s day better. And it’s not just me but everyone working together. We are a team,” said Lozano.
Redding is deservedly proud of his teammates and their job performance. “Most of our classified staff have gone well above and beyond what is expected of them, all to ensure that instruction continues at the highest levels possible.”
Superintendent Karl Mueller agreed, “Our classified staff are the face of our district, they control the weather. They provide the services and supports which make teaching and learning possible; their value to our organization cannot be overstated.”