School district brass and civic leaders walked a mile in more practical shoes last week, standing beside the Modesto City Schools support staff that keep schools humming.
“As a parent, I know it can be a single person that can make or break a student’s day,” Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson said after her stint with George Sawyer in the Davis High kitchen.
The good-natured teamwork she saw fell in the “make their day” category, she said. “If the district could capture the spirit that is in the Davis kitchen, we would be an awesome district.”
“For a businessperson to see how the school staff does what it does is very encouraging,” said Cecil Russell, Modesto Chamber of Commerce CEO. Russell spent a morning watching attendance liaison Maria Lobato make calls and knock on doors to find out why kids were not at school.
Amazing, he said, especially since she’s traveling troubled sections of town with only a flip phone. “She needs a smartphone,” he called out to administrators gathered for the post-job shadow luncheon.
I spent a morning with tech guru Matthew Ketchum, watching him walk college counselor Alison Kuykendall through creating a screencast – a video of the computer screen – while she narrated an answer to a common college information question.
The next few weeks she will be swamped writing letters of recommendation for Gregori High students applying to colleges. “This will help all those students who need me while my door is closed and I’m writing those letters,” she said.
Next we went to a training session for teacher coaches where Ketchum led them through the basics of creating online lessons, complete with instant-result polls, video links and even a pop quiz option.
The soft-spoken Ketchum even sidestepped to unravel a spreadsheet merge issue for me. I confess, among the 30 job shadow pairs I was likely the least helpful to my counterpart.
We need to recognize and honor our staff more often. Superintendent Pam Able
Job shadowing began as a union salute in 2014, when Modesto City Schools was one of 10 school district across the state taking part in the California School Employees Association annual Appreciating Classified Employees program.
That year, Superintendent Pam Able paired up with local union president Aaron Castro for a janitorial shift at Tuolumne Elementary, gamely dumping trash and cleaning restrooms. Afterward, Able said what surprised her was the veteran janitor’s connection with students, and Castro commended the superintendent’s work ethic.
Able and Castro brought job shadowing back Sept. 12-14, saying the experience helped administrators better understand the boots-on-the-ground work of CSEA workers – the bus drivers, classroom aides, school secretaries, mechanics and others who play pivotal background roles throughout the school district.
“This may be an annual event. We need to recognize and honor our staff more often,” Able said after her stint, paired with campus supervisor Wayne Coulter at Gregori High.
“We would love to do this every year. I think it’s very beneficial,” Castro said later. He got a hand from trustee Steve Grenbeaux, a retired teacher who, Castro said, took the tasks in stride. “It was nice having board president Grenbeaux as a shadow,” he said.
“Managers shadowing classified get a sense of the work classified perform on a day-to-day basis to effectively run the educational system at Modesto City Schools,” Castro said.
Managers shadowing classified get a sense of the work classified perform on a day-to-day basis to effectively run the educational system at Modesto City Schools. CSEA President Aaron Castro
Watching insurance technician Penny Oliver deftly dispatch a raft of everyday issues gave Marshall Elementary Principal Scott Genzmer new appreciation of the long, dry forms in his filing cabinet. “It’s really eye-opening what the responsibilities are,” he said.
“It’s like a duck swimming on a pond,” was how school board secretary Becky Hurst described folks she watched during her job shadow. All calm on top, she said, “But back there they are paddling hard!”
Public information officer Becky Fortuna spent a morning with a nearly deaf teen and Linda McLaughlin, the aide who types in teacher lectures and student conversations – a kind of on-site closed captioning – so the student can take part in the class.
It was a job Fortuna said she did not know even existed. “I’ve been here six years and I’m still learning about the jobs throughout the district,” she said.
For Michele Gutierrez, an administrator in human resources, speeding nearly 900 youngsters throughout seven lunch periods at Franklin Elementary was an education in itself. “Once the kids come in, if you don’t have systems in place, it’s just not going to work,” she said.
Her partner for the day was Fran Evans, who knew all the kids and who had special diets to follow, Gutierrez said. “I did it once – she does it every day.”
Those upbeat day-in-the-life snapshots give a better feel for behind the scenes jobs to folks in the historic brick district office on Locust Street, kind of their own mini-internships.
And just as student interns learn much outside of the job details – like the importance of being on time, polite to customers and dressed to fit the job – the higher-ups said they got a larger sense of not just what the job takes, but who it takes, to keep the district humming.
Person after person spoke of recognizing the dedication of in-the-trenches workers and the comfort of students around them. While the rosy glow may not last, the insights should. Maybe next year the rank and file should shadow administrators.