RSD is celebrating Education Support Professionals Week March 13-17! Our 875 classified staff, including nutrition services, custodians, secretaries, paraeducators, bus drivers, maintenance and grounds crews, IT and all other support staff, ensure our schools have the resources and support needed to make each day count for kids. If you see them around our schools, be sure to thank them for all they do!
To celebrate, we are shining the spotlight on several of our education support professional staff members. Read about them and their deep connections to our schools.
Warehouse/Distribution & Logistics
Monica Riggs previously worked as a substitute teacher in Richland schools. The work was important but she found that it just wasn’t active enough for her.
“I really like to move,” she says. “I’m fast-paced. I don’t want to be sitting at a desk.”
Last September she joined the district’s distribution and logistics team and she’s been happily running all over the district to make sure every school and district facility has the items they need.
Most importantly, she knows she is still doing something to support students each school day.
“We receive and deliver everything from oranges to baseball turf,” Monica says. “We are truly involved in everything that goes on in the district.”
Jim Stickler has worked as a mechanic since he graduated high school. Twenty-three years ago, he took a job as the district’s school bus mechanic. At that time, Richland School District had a fleet of about 50 school buses and it was up to him to keep them safe and running.
Now the district has more than 80 buses and even with an additional mechanic on staff, it’s a lot of work to keep the district’s buses on the road.
“(Buses) have changed a lot, there’s a lot more electronic components that we didn’t used to have,” Jim says. “There’s constant on-the-job training so we can figure out how to fix things as they come up.”
And he enjoys the work, even when there are unannounced vehicle inspections. It keeps him on his toes.
“I take pride in my work and make sure what I do, I do right,” Jim says.
Melaina Cooper worked as a night-shift custodian in Richland schools before leaping at the opportunity to work in the district’s print shop.
“I’ve always had a love for design and making things pretty and this is a place where I get to be creative,” she says.
She’s now been in the print shop for five years and works with the rest of the small staff to print and package roughly 77,000 copies of worksheets, forms, supplemental readings and more for delivery to schools each day.
And while making copies may not look creative at first glance, it provides plenty of opportunities to be innovative. One item submitted for copying originated in the 1970s and was so faded and low quality to make it hard to read. So Melaina worked up a fresh digital version to ensure the teacher could continue to use it.
“We want everything to look its best,” she says. “I love that I can help everyone.”
Josh Wallis and Brian Johnson became a team just this school year, but they had no problem getting on the same page when it comes to taking care of Richland School District’s high school athletic fields.
“Both of us are pretty picky about how we like things,” Josh says.
Josh has serviced the district’s high school sports fields for the past seven years, and Brian joined him in September having worked on other landscape roles in the district before that.
The district’s landscape services staff have worked for the past several years to become a model of grounds management for schools and the region itself. Both Josh and Brian are nationally certified through the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS). They and other members of the district’s grounds staff worked to earn a PGMS Green Star Award for their management of Fran Rish’s natural grass field before it was converted to turf.
Brian and Josh are quick point out that their job isn’t just about mowing grass. It’s maintaining irrigation systems, regularly checking soil chemistry and taking whatever steps are needed to keep the fields in good health as student-athletes practice and compete on them. And those same student-athletes and their coaches have become partners as a result.
“If you’re always laying down a good play field, you get the players to buy in to helping maintain it as well,” Brian says.
Helen DeConinck’s time as a paraeducator at River’s Edge High School was meant to be temporary. She previously worked as a bus paraeducator in the district’s transportation department until someone suggested she reach out to River’s Edge to fill a temporary position while another staff member finished working on a degree.
Nearly five years later, she’s still there.
Her role at the school is fluid. She supports the school’s nurse, sometimes supervises students in the River’s Edge café, or helps welcome students and visitors just coming on to the campus. She also maintains a caseload of the school’s students receiving English language learner support.
Helen thought her stay at River's Edge would just be temporary, but she is pleased that her position became permanent.
“I like the culture, the family feel, the camaraderie,” she says. “I think if I were to ever leave, I would miss everyone here, especially the students I love and care about.”
Secretaries Shawn Gass and Vanessa Martinez had different motivations for wanting to work in schools.
For Shawn, a drive to be involved in the community and the suggestion of an aunt who previously worked for RSD led her to start subbing as a para and secretary, before taking on the lead secretary role at the Early Learning Center (ELC).
For Vanessa, her experience in raising her own children motivated her to become involved in education and the ELC specifically; her oldest child is autistic and working in schools provided an opportunity to learn about special education and how to help him.
Now, though, both say their motivation to be at school each day includes dozens of little reasons that walk through the front door each morning, carrying backpacks and waving hello.
“It’s personal, it feels like [the preschoolers] know us,” Vanessa says. “We’re not just secretaries, we’re family.”
“The kids are my driving force,” Shawn adds. “If I don’t make this impact on them now, what will they think of school in the future?”
When Amanda Stacks came to William Wiley Elementary to serve as the school’s forewoman, she was most excited about how the new role would shift her schedule and her duties.
“I love working days and being in charge of how days go,” she says. “It’s great to work with the principal and come up with a plan to make sure everything runs smoothly.”
Those days do start at 6 a.m. and are not lacking in things to do. There’s the daily cleaning routines as well as needing to help set up the gym for breakfast and lunch. There are unexpected messes and special needs such as setting up for assemblies and other events. Amanda and the schools other custodians are always moving from one task to another.
One thing that she’s come to enjoy, though, is having more opportunities to get to know the kids she serves. When she was a night custodian, she’d maybe see students for about an hour a day. Now she gets to see them as they come in each morning for breakfast and some of them get to know her and say hello to her.
“What’s even better is when they see you outside of school, recognize you and say ‘I know you from my school,’ and I’m always happy to reply ‘yes you do,’” Amanda says.
Working in the kitchen at Richland High School was an ideal job for Linda Harmon when she started there in 1998.
“I had a small child and was a single parent,” Linda says. “The hours worked perfectly and I had summers off.”
Twenty-five years later she is the kitchen manager at Enterprise Middle School. A lot has changed in that time—school menus have become healthier and more diverse in flavor while the standards for cleanliness and safety have improved. And she can’t think of doing anything else.
Each day is busy but she knows many students appreciate what she and the rest of the kitchen staff do.
“There are those who take the time to get to know you,” she says. “They’ll bake us cookies, give us Christmas cards. One time a whole made us a poster with drawings of all their favorite foods and saying ‘thank you.’ They keep me young.”