Celebrating classified staff members

Celebrating classified staff members
Posted on 03/10/2021
March 8-12 marks Classified Staff Appreciation Week (Education Support Professionals) in Tahoma and throughout the state of Washington. To each of our classified employees: Thank you for the tremendous work that you do all year round!

For those who may not know the difference between classified employees and certificated employees, classified employees perform a wide array of jobs to support teachers and students. Among those are paraeducators, bus drivers, nutrition services, secretaries and other clerical positions, nurses, custodians, technology team members, EEP (childcare) and more. They are represented by the Public School Employees of Washington (PSE) union . Certificated employees include teachers, psychologists and a few other categories.

“Tahoma’s strength has always been the amazing people who have made the choice to be a part of creating a special place for kids. Our classified staff are an integral part of this. In a year where predicting anything has been a challenge, our classified staff have responded with resilience and flexibility every step of the way,” Superintendent Mike Hanson said. “To say you are appreciated is an understatement. We are blessed to be partners with the hundreds of people who continue to put kids first. Thank you.”

Today, we’re highlighting the longest-serving classified employee from each classification. The Public School Employees Tahoma Chapter is distributing prizes for its members this week. We look forward to the 2021-2022 school year, when we hope social distancing and other restrictions will be lifted and we will be able to gather for the annual classified dinner.

Transportation: Keri Cooper
When Keri Cooper thinks back over her 32 years driving Tahoma students to school on the bus, she has many fond memories of children and families she developed relationships with, but there are a few moments that stand out. One year, a mom of one student on her route arranged for all the children who wanted to thank their bus driver to write a note to Mrs. Cooper, and compiled them all into a book. Another time on Valentine’s Day, when the bus arrived at Rock Creek Elementary, one student had a gift for her.

“A little girl handed me a box of chocolates. It’s not sealed anymore. When I open it up, two are missing and one has a bite taken out of it!,” Cooper recalled, laughing.

She started driving for the district to help her family, and because her best friend and former Tahoma bus driver Heidi McElderry told her she should give it a try.

“They twisted my arm, and then I loved it,” Cooper said. “The district was small back then. It was super fun, and I got to be on the same schedule with my own kids.”

Originally Cooper drove one of the district’s large buses, and for many years she had the “Berry Patch” route near Tahoma Elementary. For the past five years, she has driven a smaller bus.

When she is not working, she and her family love to go camping at Lake Chelan and spend time with her kids and grandkids.

After 32 years, Cooper has now had some of her original students’ children on her bus, and it’s amazing to see new generations of Tahoma students come through the system. These days, she can’t walk through the store without seeing someone she knows from one of the schools. “The kids run up and give me a hug. ...I have tons of memories. There have been a million smiles, a few tears. Lots of great moments early in the morning with the beautiful sunrise.”
There have been times when students needed a kind word or a listening ear, boys who wanted advice about girls, and countless other conversations through the years that she says will always stick with her.

Secretarial/clerical: Mickey VonStubbe
Helping kids is at the center of Michele “Mickey” VonStubbe’s life. As registrar for Maple View Middle School, VonStubbe ensures that student data is correctly recorded and stored, which is no small task. In her time away from school, VonStubbe works on her 20-acre farm, which she also shares with 4H students who tend to her alpacas and llamas.

“I opened my farm to 4H kids and let them use my animals to show and train” as they learn to care for them, she said.
VonStubbe began working for Tahoma in 1989 as a substitute in the Human Resources office. She became a school registrar in 1995. She said her favorite part of the job is working with students and watching them grow and learn.

“I love working with the kids,” she said. “I encourage them to pay attention to their schoolwork and how important it is in the future. I’ve sent two generations of my own kids through school and reading and study habits are the most important.”

She also has appreciation for her adult colleagues, especially after facing challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have three new people in our department so it has been great getting to know them and the cooperation that we’ve all extended to each other has been great,” she said. “All the staff are so cooperative and so helpful.”

VonStubbe’s focus on kids and animals has created many fond memories. Asked about one that stands out, she recalled a trip to a Future Farmers of America convention in Pullman at Washington State University.

“I’ve enjoyed just about all the administrators who I have worked with through the years,” she said. “When I first started working, we rode a bus over to Wazzu with the Ag department one time with (retired Superintendent) Mike Maryanski. It was a most memorable time.”

Educational Support: Marjorie Bagnall
For the past 21 years, Glacier Park Elementary has been paraeducator Marjorie Bagnall’s work “home.”

“Glacier Park has a great environment because of staff,” Bagnall said. “It makes it enjoyable to work there. Tahoma -- and especially Glacier Park -- feel like family to me.”

When she was first hired by Tahoma 30 years ago, Bagnall worked at Cedar River, which was an elementary school at the time (before it became a middle school and then an elementary school again based on district needs). She has always served in Special Education as a paraprofessional giving support in behavior and academics.

“I love working with children. Even in high school I volunteered to help a unique class to learn to square dance and do crafts,” Bagnall said. “I understand that some children have difficulties that require special insight to help them succeed at school. I feel great satisfaction knowing that I am contributing to their progress and contributing to Tahoma’s purpose of preparing students for their future.”

“This last year has been different. Not being able to interact with the kids directly has been challenging and depressing,” she continued. “I would like to give credit to the Glacier Park staff for their never-ending ideas to keep the students feeling a part of their school community.

When not working at school, Bagnall and her husband of 46 years have raised a family of four boys and numerous animals. She also loves to read mysteries and has a hobby of raising exotic Highland Lynx kittens.

“It doesn’t feel like 30 years have gone by. There have been many changes through the Tahoma District over the years,” Bagnall said. “I feel lucky to belong to a community that is ever-striving to improve learning.”

Food Service: Debbie McKee
Debra “Debbie” McKee loves introducing new and various foods to students. During her 13 years as Central Kitchen Manager and 29 years with Food and Nutrition Services overall, she has had some memorable moments.

“I had a student one time not know what a fresh pear was; he had only had them from a can,” McKee recalled. Another time, many years ago, she was serving lunch and one of the items included a poppy seed roll. “A second grade student stepped up to get his tray, looked me straight in the face and said ‘I would like mine without ANTS, please!’ and he was so serious.”

At the end of each day, she said she feels grateful to be part of the team that ensures students have healthy, delicious and nutritious meals to help feed their bodies and their minds. “This helps students concentrate and learn better. I am happy to be a part of that,” McKee said. “I smile knowing that my staff is doing a great job, giving it their all and stepping up to many challenges.

Her job entails planning and ordering food and supplies from several vendors for Tahoma’s elementary schools; organizing; making work schedules and working with other staff members preparing food for transport to schools. McKee’s team also supports the middle schools and the high school and ensures compliance with health code regulations. She said she appreciates their flexibility, hard work, paying attention to safety measures and helping make the program a success.

During McKee’s personal time, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, gardening and watching the Seahawks on TV.

Custodial/Maintenance: Dave Weickum
Tahoma Elementary Head Custodian Dave Weickum said he loves it when things run smoothly at his building or a repair project gets completed -- a job well done.

“It’s good to play a small part of a district and a building that’s been kept up since 1926, and will continue on for a long time,” Weickum said, referring to the historic Tahoma Elementary three-story building, which was the district’s first high school structure and was also a junior high and middle school before its most recent renovation.

“I’m in charge of making sure all functions of the building are working properly. HVAC, plumbing, electrical. I work with district maintenance and other outside contractors for any repairs I can’t do myself. I’m in charge of ordering supplies,” he said, describing his position. “I send work orders for Maintenance, Tech and Grounds when needed. I support my night crew in whatever they need as they do the majority of cleaning. I make sure gates are open, alarms are off, and HVAC is warming things up.”

Weickum will celebrate his 27th year working for the district this August. He has spent eight years on the night shift at Shadow Lake, served as head custodian at Cedar River, 13 years at Tahoma Middle School, two years at Summit Trail Middle School, and has been at Tahoma Elementary for the past three years.

“I remember a time when the only night group was Cub Scouts once a week, no security alarms, no cell phones or computers,” Weickum said. “No staff or user groups came on campus during any of the breaks. We did one supply order during the summer, enough to get through the entire upcoming school year. It was a simpler time back then.”

Of course, the past year in particular has been strange. “I really appreciated how much of the staff jumped in to do whatever was necessary to make things work,” he said.
When Weickum is not working, he enjoys fishing and, occasionally, cooking.

Specialists: Karen Smejkal
Every time a parent smiles -- or cries -- when their child earns a medal, ribbon, or award during a Special Olympics competition, Karen Smejkal smiles or tears up with them.

“When a child says ‘This is the happiest day of my life!’ I forget about all those long hours prepping for Special Olympic events,” said Smejkal, who has worked for 25 years as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant and Special Olympics Program Coordinator. She provides therapeutic activities, evaluations, home programs, and consultations for students with special needs, parents and the Special Education team. But her favorite part is teaching a child a skill that they will use throughout their lifetime.

“My job feeds my soul knowing that I may be making a difference in a child’s life and that they will have a plan after graduation,” Smejkal said.

During this most unusual year, she says she greatly appreciates students, families and staff being so positive, happy and keeping a sense of humor.

Outside of work, Smejkal loves to spend time hiking, biking, jogging, dancing to classic rock and disco music.

Technology: Rhonda Watson
As a support technician, Rhonda Watson’s job is to help ensure that Tahoma students and staff have reliable computers, software, and network access. She likes the variety and says each work day is unique and can offer unexpected challenges.

“The work is different most every day,” she said. “I am not sitting behind a desk; I am out in buildings every single day. I never know what I might come up against and need to figure out an answer to, like working a new puzzle daily.”
Watson has been with Tahoma 21 years and joined the Technology Department 18 years ago. She said her work directly impacts students and teachers.

“We make sure they have a device that helps them do their classwork, homework, research,” she said. “We make sure the teachers have something they can use to teach and communicate with those students. Technology is an integral part of the curriculum. I feel necessary and very valuable.”
During the pandemic, Watson said she and the technology team have taken on new challenges as they continue to support staff and students.

“We have all had to work together to get so much done and in such a hurry,” she said. “At a moment’s notice we would be working late, working on a weekend, doing things we hadn’t ever done before, like taking phone calls from parents, figuring out how to help them solve internet connection issues at home, handing out Chromebooks to endless lines of thankful families and working in high gear all the time.”

Watson’s clients recognize her value. Each year, teacher Teresa Eccles sends Watson a special piece of student art as a way of showing thanks.

“I get a picture a student draws of me every year,” she said, noting that she has about 20 of them now. “It gets sent to me via district mail. It is always a wonderful surprise. It is one huge way I feel appreciated.”

Away from work, Watson said she enjoys gardening, long walks, reading, cheering for the Seahawks and Mariners and her college alma mater (Go Cougs!) and playing tennis.

Extended Enrichment Program: Tammy Davis
Getting to know the many students and families who come through the EEP (Extended Enrichment Program) is one of Tammy Davis’ favorite parts of her job. She also enjoys supporting students in their individual needs. “Whether it (is) student support, or helping with homework, it’s rewarding to know that I helped them,” Davis said.

Hired in 2003 as an EEP assistant, she started her time with Tahoma at Lake Wilderness, then worked at Shadow Lake, and has since spent time working at all the other elementary schools, for a total of 18 years.

As EEP assistant, Davis helps supervise children in the afternoon at Shadow Lake. She orders and serves snacks, plays games, leads crafts and generally helps students have a fun time while they are at EEP. Davis has worked morning and afternoon shifts, and fills in for the manager when she is gone.

Another favorite element of her position happens every summer when EEP takes field trips. “I really enjoy spending time with the students during field trips,” Davis added.
Although the past year has been challenging for all students, families and staff, one positive has been the opportunity to work with Tahoma bus drivers and get to know them while staffing the daycare sessions at Glacier Park. “It was nice to be able to work along with other departments,” she said.

If Davis isn’t at EEP enjoying the company of Tahoma students, her “happy spot” is spending time with her seven grandchildren, taking them out for ice cream, shopping, and having them spend the weekend. She enjoys eating out at Crockett’s and Monster Sushi.

For today's special edition of the district newsletter including photos of the staff members we highlighted here: http://bit.ly/TSDcelebratingTahomaClassifiedStaff
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