Many teachers and administrators in the Williamsburg-James City County School District are familiar to students and parents.
Other staff members, namely those who prepare meals, file paperwork, drive buses and wash floors, don’t necessary enjoy the same notoriety.
Marcellus Snipes, the division’s senior director for operations, had those employees in mind when he and others helped bring the operations building at 597 Jolly Pond Road to life over several years.
Among the changes is a Wall of Fame honoring employees and other community members for their contributions, and a wall detailing the history of schools in the area.
“Everyone else has their buildings improved every summer,” he said. “I wanted our people to have something to come back to.”
The services custodians provide is more universal than those provided by other groups in the school, Snipes said, since they speak with all three groups — students, teachers and administrators — routinely.
“Students may only talk to teachers, really,” Snipes said. “Teachers communicate with administrators and vice versa. But everybody talks to the custodians. People get to know them.”
If they and other support staff feel appreciated, Snipes said, they will reflect that as they are serving others in their jobs.
“I’ve always believed that the way you treat your staff is the way they’ll treat the customer,” he said.
Snipes acknowledged some custodial staff need convincing before they realize just how integral they are to the everyday happenings in the district.
“I ask my staff every year, ‘Who thought they would be a basketball player growing up? A football player?’ The hands always shoot up,” he said. “Who necessarily thought as a child they’d end up as a custodian?”
Years went into the process of making the building changes. No extensive research was involved, but operations staff had to find time to work on the building in addition to other projects.
“This is all part of a process we’ve been undergoing since 2010,” Snipes said. “For something like the Wall of Fame, we were figuring who we wanted to put on there even three years ago. As you know, things come up and you keep pushing it back and you keep pushing it back.”
The Wall of Fame includes the late John McDonald, who was James City County’s chief financial officer until he died of a heart attack in 2014.
McDonald, hired by the county in 1977, was key to crafting how the school division creates its capital improvement plans.
“I really wanted to make sure to get him on there,” Snipes said. “Not just staff can end up on that wall. It could be anybody who has served in a capacity and helped us for a long time. Time is a factor, since you can really only form those relationships over a matter of years. We’ll call other people who might vouch for you.”
Along the wall are pictures of the Bray School, which illegally educated African-American children from 1760 to 1774.
In 1871, the greater Williamsburg area had a public school that existed solely to educate 75 African-American students. At the time, such a practice was illegal in Virginia, Snipes said.
It also includes the James City County Training School, which after its construction in 1924 served as a school for African-American children. The school was eventually knocked down to make room for what was then a segregated Bruton Heights School.
“I had no idea Bruton was so important for the black community at the time,” said administrative assistant Elaine Whiteley. “There were black soldiers who had nowhere to go at the time, so they would go to Bruton Heights on the weekends. There was a theatre, even. The staff and principal would show movies and collect money.”
How the buildings were maintained was important to educators and community leaders as far back as the early 1900s.
“Even as far back as 1901, the charter mentions custodians and how they needed to wash floors and more,” Snipes said. “People understood that part of education was having someone who could take care of the schools.”
Alan Robertson, the division's facilities manager, said a penchant for history and many years working in the district made for a good marriage as he researched area schools .
“‘We’re small enough that there is a coherent history,” he said. “It’s not a place like Virginia Beach, where you might get buried under all the information. What I liked was I’d talk to one person, then they’d tell me something new and point me to someone else.”
But finding pictures for the wall was harder than they initially expected, Whiteley said.
“You’d think these schools would keep pictures or something,” she said. “Turns out most of them did not. It was fascinating finding some of the little bits of information about these schools and the area.”
Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.