St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

A song to the unsung

School workers who support teachers and administrators are honored for their role in keeping things running smoothly.

DONNA WINCHESTER
Published February 11, 2004

Teachers and principals call them the "unsung heroes" of the school system.

Day in and day out, they show up willing to do whatever it takes to keep the education machine running smoothly.

Without them, many tasks crucial to educating children would certainly go undone.

They are the 7,500 secretaries, bookkeepers, plant operators, teacher assistants and other individuals, some without titles, who work tirelessly to support educators and children in Pinellas County schools.

For 10 years, the Pinellas County Teachers Credit Union has encouraged schools to recognize their support employees by nominating them for a recognition program called Support Employee of the Year.

This year, more than 70 names were submitted. The pool was narrowed to 12 semifinalists and then to nine finalists, three in each of three categories: Direct Involvement with Students, Indirect Involvement with Students, and Limited Involvement with Students.

Vonnie Klein, a parent facilitator for Florida First Start in Largo, was named Friday as the 2004 Support Employee of the Year in the Direct Involvement category. Nancy Niemeyer, a secretary-bookkeeper at Mount Vernon Elementary School, was the winner in the Indirect Involvement category. Louis Carson Jr., a head plant operator at Clearwater Intermediate School, was the winner in the Limited Involvement category.

Here is a look at the nine finalists.

Direct Involvement with Students

VONNIE WILSON KLEIN, parent facilitator with Florida First Start

Years with school district: 13

What she does: Supports low-income families in their efforts to help young children be ready for school; serves as a job mentor and helps train new Florida First Start employees; actively involves the community in supporting families; represents the program on local interagency councils.

From her nomination form: "Vonnie helps parents understand their role as their child's first and lifelong teacher and models strategies for them to use. ... She helps children begin to develop the skills needed to be successful in school and demonstrates that learning and achieving are not only fun, but more important, within their reach." Florida First Start Team

ROSHELLE PEAK, campus activities monitor, Northeast High School

Years with school district: 3

What she does: Monitors courtyard during lunch, counsels students on homework and interpersonal issues, patrols the campus for trespassers and students in unauthorized areas, participates on the school safety committee and reports at weekly administrative team meetings, trains students for the student crime watch program, monitors the school security camera system, leads the peer mediation program, facilitates a mentoring program for African-American students, sponsors the multicultural club.

From her nomination form: "Ms. Peak displays leadership skills daily in her dealings with students, faculty, staff, parents and community members. ... By staying calm in the face of adversity, Ms. Peak is able to lower the anxiety level of those she is dealing with and helps bring resolution to the conflict faster." John Frank, assistant principal, Northeast High School

ROSEMARY J. COMBS, teacher assistant, Richard L. Sanders School

Years with school district: 15

What she does: Works with students in the classroom to reach their academic, behavioral and social potential, makes home visits to establish relationships with parents and guardians, coordinates monthly lunches for the students and staff, institutes behavior management programs, advocates for safe surroundings, works with the after-school detention program, facilitates an off-campus learning opportunity at an area nursing home, serves on donation recruitment committees, coordinates open house activities, organizes field day events.

From her nomination form: "Ms. Combs displays strong leadership qualities outside the classroom as well as inside. ... Ms. Combs' self-directed leadership skills make her an asset to our school, district and community." The middle school team, Richard L. Sanders School

Indirect Involvement with Students

NANCY NIEMEYER, secretary/bookkeeper, Mount Vernon Elementary School

Years with school district: 28

What she does: Secures substitute teachers; issues certificates to children deserving recognition; contributes to the school newsletter; meets monthly with the site safety committee to review accident reports; coordinates CPR classes for the staff; handles workers compensation issues; assists staff with technology; spearheads fundraising activities.

From her nomination form: "Nancy is a natural leader and consistently displays leadership skills in her job each and every day. She is most definitely the key to the effectiveness and efficiency of the busy Mount Vernon office, which is the hub of our school." Valerie White, principal, Mount Vernon Elementary School

BARBARA FARMER, community involvement assistant, Seminole Elementary School

Years with school district: 3

What she does: Works with teachers to determine their classroom and student needs, recruits and places volunteers in the classroom, searches for resources and programs that will enhance classroom lessons, arranges field trips, works with students on special projects, supervises a team of student journalists, organizes the Great American Teach-In and Read Across America, participates in the CORE leadership team, coordinates a communication program to inform parents of schoolwide events, oversees Family Dinner nights, leads and assists with parent workshops.

From her nomination form: "Barbara's caring spirit and commitment to the school makes the parents feel welcome and comfortable when around her. Many parents now come to Barbara with concerns or questions, knowing the answers will be given in a timely manner." Bonnie J. Cangelosi, principal, Seminole Elementary School

MARGARET M. HOGGATT, technology paraprofessional, Pinellas Central Elementary School

Years with school district: 4

What she does: Facilitates and implements schoolwide technology programs including Compass Learning and Reading Counts, chairs the school's Partnership to Advance School Success program, leads site-based training for staff members, selects books and quizzes for the media center to support technology programs, assists students who have auditory processing challenges, repairs computers, schedules student lab time, tracks and evaluates student data, researches programs to help special education students, coordinates with the PTA to organize fundraisers, participates on the school improvement writing team.

From her nomination form: "From my perspective, Margaret is a talented, organized individual, and one of the best employees that I have observed. She has enthusiasm for her work and is very cooperative." Felita G. Lott, principal, Pinellas Central Elementary School

Indirect Involvement with Students

LOUIS CARSON JR., head plant operator, Clearwater Intermediate School

Years with school district: 7

What he does: Provides a safe, clean and secure environment for students; participates in an after-school mentoring and tutoring program; sits on the school emergency response team, the site safety committee and the crisis response team; assists in tornado, lockdown and fire watch drills; helps monitor the dismissal process.

From his nomination form: "Beyond his expertise in maintaining a clean, safe, attractive facility, he is a role model for our students. No one has ever heard an unkind or negative word from him. When there are problems, he finds solutions. Where there are obstacles, he sees opportunities. Where there are children, he sees the future." Freddie Robinson, principal, Clearwater Intermediate School

SHARON K. VAN DER VEEN, secretary-bookkeeper, Campbell Park Elementary School

Years with district: 14

What she does: Orders and delivers materials, assists administrators and grant coordinators, maintains site-based grant materials, arranges for substitute teachers, participates in the site safety committee, the effective and efficient operations committee and the leadership team committee, oversees procedures for the school's partnership with the University of South Florida, addresses PTA and SAC members, prepares the parent newsletter, facilitates orientation training for support employees seeking a Certificate of Distinction.

From her nomination form: "Visitors often comment on the professional manner in which they are treated when visiting our campus. This can all be attributed to Mrs. van der Veen's work ethic awareness." James Steen, principal, Campbell Park Elementary School

Cynthia M. Carbone, secretary, Riviera Middle School

Years with school district: 14

What she does: Encourages students who appear to be unreachable by offering them opportunities to work with her, keeps minutes for the safety committee and makes sure suggestions for problem solving are carried out, participates on the school recognition committee, contributes to the school's improvement plan, communicates with substitute teachers and parents.

From her nomination form: "She goes way beyond the necessary in her work. It is just her nature to be one of the most efficient and wonderful people one could encounter in a lifetime." Jean Robinson, teacher, Riviera Middle School

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.