School plant operators already have a tall order. They must keep school buildings clean and in good working order, often with limited resources in aging facilities, all while surrounded by hundreds of busy little mess-makers.
But the job doesn’t stop there for many plant operators. They take their role a step further, supporting students and teachers with joy and enthusiasm that brings a warmth and light to a school that the systems they monitor can’t even begin to generate.
Jefferson County Public Schools highlighted one such plant operator recently in a video on their Facebook page. Mickey Bridwell, plant operator at Blue Lick Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., greets children in the car rider line each day and leads them in a special chant. He sits with students at lunch, ties shoes, cheers up children who are having a tough day, and does whatever he can to help “make teachers’ jobs easier.” Best of all, he does it all with a warm, grandfatherly smile on his face.
Bridwell recognizes that he is a role model for students, and embraces that role with enthusiasm.
What can administrators and communities do to appreciate and encourage plant operators, custodians and other school support staff personnel? Here are a few ideas:
Include them in decision-making. Plant operators and custodians should have a place at the table when key decisions are being made, from supply changes to process changes to system changes. Their front-line experiences yield valuable insights, especially in the highly variable context of school buildings. Including plant operators and custodians in decisions will ensure successful implementation later.
Honor their contributions. Set aside time on the school calendar to honor plant operators and custodians. October 2 is National Custodial Worker’s Recognition Day, so that might be a good start. Appreciation also might take the form of features on excellent plant operators or custodial staff in school or district-wide newsletters, or even video profiles like the one produced by JCPS. Don’t underestimate the power of “surprise and delight” opportunities, too, such as bringing in a hot breakfast for plant operators and custodians who must show up early to de-ice sidewalks on cold days.
Support networking and learning opportunities. Connect plant operators and custodians to organizations and opportunities that help them grow, such as the Kentucky School Plant Management Association. The KPSMA offers a conference and workshops every year. ECT Services will be participating in the KPSMA conference this year, which will take place Oct. 18-19 at the Embassy Suites Hotel at 1801 Newtown Pike in Lexington.