I’ve had the good fortune of working for the Stillwater School District in the custodial department for the past 20 years.
I’ve served in the early childhood, elementary, junior high, and high school levels, and worked the first, second, and third shifts. I’ve witnessed a lot, and have gotten to know the individual hearts that influence our “whole.”
As a custodian, I have the privilege of working in this amazing environment, without being assigned a student, or a class of students. I’m sort of like that childless uncle who comes to the family functions; I get to interact with the kids, but I don’t need to bring one home.
Working in the periphery, as I do, gives me a unique perspective. I’d like to share a few instances that have been emblazoned into my mind.
I worked the third shift at Stillwater Area High School concurrently with Zach Sobiech, I never got to meet him, but I followed his courageous battle via the news, and the student newspaper. As most know, Sobiech missed the actual graduation ceremony by a few weeks. While my relationship with the circumstances was abstract, I vividly recall the box of unclaimed caps and gowns in the bookkeeper’s office that I cleaned, and remembered seeing his name on one unclaimed package. Suddenly, the situation became less abstract. Luckily I was working the third shift, and was able to sob undetected. I think about the support that was so graciously offered by my colleagues for him in our learning community.
I worked as the head engineer at Withrow and Marine during the heart-wrenching closure process. Shortly after the announcement of closure, one of the beloved staff members at Withrow, who happened to be a single parent of two elementary students there, passed away suddenly (there was reason to believe it was due to conditions she encountered while working as a first responder at the 9/11 site.) Again, I think of the support offered so graciously to her children by my colleagues in our learning community.
After the closures, I ended up at Brookview. I remember three brothers whom I believe are of immigrant parents. Every day, they would eat breakfast together in the cafeteria.
After they cleaned up and grabbed their school bags, they would converge in the hallway where the building branched out into the grade-specific wings.
They would give each other a big hug before they ventured into their separate wings. I think about the support offered to those boys as they make their way to class and to a caring teaching staff.
I purposely avoid social media, contentious board meetings and local network news as it relates to this district, but every once in a while a colleague will bring up a post or report of some of the contentiousness or examples of incivility.
The stark difference of what I experience in the learning community versus what is displayed outside our walls is extraordinary. I often wonder if the community at large thinks that the sometimes immature nature of discourse has penetrated our walls, if we as nurturing staff fall prey to the confirmation bias that fuels the exaggerations and inaccuracies that seem to make good press and posts.
I have to be mindful of what I can actually control. I know when I get to work at 5:30 a.m., turn on the lights and open doors, the building begins to come alive. The Adventure club staff, bus drivers, the food service workers, the delivery people, the paraprofessionals, the office staff, and the teachers trickle in and offer to our students an amazing and dedicated service.
It’s not simply students we serve, it’s our future we are nurturing.
As I see the students of all backgrounds supporting and honoring their differences, I have hope.
Eventually the contentiousness and the inability of some to compromise or have the willingness to evolve their thinking will subside, and just like the three brothers born of immigrants, we will all come together, embrace, and with a generous and courageous heart, move into our own wings of influence and learning.
Editor’s note: Schurr wrote the following message to all of the staff in ISD 834, as a response to some of the contentiousness surrounding the district.