Dr. Baker and JoLynda ChronisterAs many of you may recall from our All Staff Event in August, I committed this year to Walking in the Shoes 2.0, where I would spend time with other staff/programs in our district.

Last Friday, I spent a day walking in the shoes of school secretary, JoLynda Chronister at Roosevelt Elementary School.

7:30 AM Arriving at Roosevelt I said a quick hello to JoLynda Chronister and Principal Tom Gresham and we jumped right into the work. Kindergartners are going to the pumpkin patch, so we need to ensure all medical needs are planned for (inhalers, etc…). We went through the medicine cabinet and put medications in a bag with directions. Then we looked at the sub list; One staff member was sick today. We need to go to the gym and get it unlocked.

We also have a paraeducator coming in for two hours to support one of our kindergarten classes. This year each kindergarten teacher in our district was provided 30-plus hours of paraeducator support to help them during the first part of the year. Kindergarten can be challenging, given that for many it is their first time in school, although we are addressing this given our investment in early childhood and our Promise K Program.

We just had a sub come that was not on the list so we need to brainstorm/backtrack the whole situation. All of this in the first 20 minutes!

7:58 AM We just received student pictures that need to be peeled and put on cumulative folders. Sounds like a good job for a volunteer or for me? The challenge is that some of the pictures have incorrect names so we need someone who knows each student by name. I won’t be of much help with this one.

8:00 AM  Word of the week…a teacher comes in with a suggestion. The word then gets posted on the new reader board. Who does this? JoLynda does. We talked about other options, i.e. a parent volunteer, custodian, etc… One of those things JoLynda just does to ensure it gets done. Time before school starts, the office is the social hot spot! Staff, subs, parents, students…a hub of, “hellos, how I can help you, have a great day!”

I learn what JoLynda does when parents don’t turn in the immunization records. She has to continuously try and get parents to turn in forms, including phone calls and letters. I wonder about what role others might play, i.e. the nurse or the principal, in having some of these hard conversations.

Sharon Reichstein, our second secretary, has been gone the last two days. JoLynda and I discussed whether a sub is brought in or not to help. Generally not, at least here at Roosevelt, due to the complexity of the job. It feels like it’s more work than it is worth to have someone fill in that doesn’t know the job and all the necessary context. I wonder if there is something we can do to better train subs?

8:20 AM Just answered my first phone call while JoLynda was helping a teacher. Dad taking three kids to the doctors today and wanted to let us know. Sharon then helped me enter that information into Skyward so the teacher is notified.

8:28 AM A little kindergarten student just walked in. She just started here a few days ago. She forgot her teachers name. We helped her out, and I got to walk her down to class. First grader walks in with a note from home that she gets to go home on the bus with a friend. Huge smile!!!

We wrote a note to the teacher. Here comes the friend…and both moms! Big event for these two youngsters. So far this is similar to my time walking in the shoes of a nurse, where it felt like constant triage. We are running from one request to another.

JoLynda helps each person with a smile and knows right what to do. I get why having a sub who doesn’t know what to do/how all the systems work, could be more work than it’s worth.

8:34 AM A little guy, kindergarten maybe, just walked in with a big smile, and said, “Am I late?!”  I think he knew the answer…and he was proud that he knew he was and knew what to do. He got a note and marched off to class.

8:42 AM After another half dozen students/parents coming in a bit late, things have temporarily quieted down for a moment. First moment of silence since 7:30.

Let’s see how long it lasts…One second…Two seconds…Three…here comes another youngster with mom!  Student has been sick but she so wanted to be here at school, she convinced mom to bring her, even if she is a bit late.

I asked JoLynda about our counseling support and if she has noticed any impact due to the increase in counselors across our schools over the last four years. Her response was overwhelming with evidence of how our counselors support our kids and families, how it decreases the workload for teachers, the office and the principal. She said having someone here full-time has been incredible.

8:53 AM  We need to find a space to test some students for our Highly Capable Program. Space is tight so we need to be creative.

8:56 AM Pondering how we might use parent/community volunteers for some of the things that happen in the office/school. All of our schools use volunteers to differing degrees. We do not have anyone in the district who helps coordinate, support, train and develop volunteers in an organized/systemic way. It reminds me of last year when the School Board held a linkage (meeting) with our senior citizens community, who shared that we so under-utilize volunteers in our community.

There are so many folks that would like to help, but don’t know how to connect with our schools. The senior citizens said they have an army of untapped volunteers in Bellingham just waiting to be engaged. What would it take to get a volunteer coordinator that could support all 22 schools in helping them get volunteers, train and develop them, facilitate the sharing of best practices, etc.?  Maybe another partnership idea with the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation.

9:10 AM  60 kindergartners marching off to the pumpkin patch! Last night, there was a family fun night where kids and their families carved pumpkins. I asked Tom, who provided the knives! Parents brought their own. I told Tom to keep this a secret…let’s not tell our Risk Management Office. 🙂

9:20 AM Stand-up meeting with Tom to discuss the day and share info back and forth. Teacher arrives and asks to meet with Tom.

9:23 AM Call from a classroom needing some support with a student. The office is kind of like the 911 call center. Call comes in and the dispatcher needs to determine what resources to deploy. In this case, with the principal busy, we go find the counselor, who quickly is able to head to the classroom.

JoLynda shares with me how she thinks through these situations. Sometimes the principal is needed, sometimes the counselors, and sometimes it is her that goes to help. She then describes how she loves interacting with kids in multiple settings. Sometimes it may be going to read in classrooms, or participating in the jog-a-thon or helping with supervision/student management. It is clear JoLynda loves these kids and is passionate about her work.

9:30 AM A lot has happened in just two hours!  At this pace, this reflection is getting quite long and I wonder if I will have lost people reading it…I think I will take a break from writing and come back online a bit later.

11:00 AM  Ok – I waited 90 minutes. A quick summary of what occurred:- We did a deep dive on record retention. What documents do we need to keep for how long? An easy question with a complex answer. We called Kris Newberry, a secretary in the Department of Teaching and Learning. A year or so ago we added a new part-time position, someone whose job it is to provide ongoing training and development and support to our secretaries. Together Kris, JoLynda and I spent time identifying the challenges and possible next steps.

The goal is to make it easy and clear to secretaries what records need to be kept and for how long, and what are best practices in doing so.- We had two students come in with teeth that had fallen out!- We had some good laughs regarding the use of technology and why we still have a fax machine and typewriter in the office. 🙂

I also heard her initial reluctance to dual computer screens, but now she loves it!- Consulted with our counselor, Chris Wermus, about calling a family for clarification on a restraining order. – Discussed how one gets walls painted and the process of filling out a work order. I think I will leave it at that with this one. 🙂

12:30 PM School shooting in Marysville. We had just talked about our safety and security work; hope we never get to a point where every single person has to be buzzed in.  (I won’t spend much time talking about the Marysville event right here; just to note that throughout the rest of the day I needed to break from my job as secretary and communicate with others in the district around impact, messaging and next steps.)

1:00 PM  Dog poop!  Three kids stepped in big piles and need clean shoes.  They are currently going in stocking feet to lunch.  Luckily Cornwall Church heard we needed shoes for a variety of reasons, and brought us a ton, so we search through some boxes for clean shoes for the kids to borrow.

Three kids came in from recess with bumps; similar to my time Walking in the Shoes of a school nurse at Wade King; ice packs all around! One of the hardest decisions JoLynda said is determining the severity of injuries and making constant judgment calls.

Young girl walks in with a smile on her face. “I have a gas bubble and so I am going to lay down.”Ball injury from recess and another ice pack.  Two more bonks!  More ice packs!

1:30 PM  Sharon done for the day, so now it’s just us running the office.

3:00 PM  The rest of the afternoon, we took care of some additional injuries, calls from parents and said good-bye to all the youngsters as they headed home.  What a great day!

Thank you to the Roosevelt staff that welcomed me and especially JoLynda for letting me walk in her shoes for a day. The life of a school secretary is action-packed and involves helping and supporting an entire community, including students, staff and parents.  It is clear The Bellingham Promise is alive and well at Roosevelt. Have a great week everyone!

Greg Baker

1 Comment

  1. I enjoyed every word of this! As a Bellingham foster parent, I recall having a sibling set who attended Roosevelt years ago and was honored to meet JoLynda. She was the perfect person for that job making everyone feel special! Thank you!

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