JAMES CITY— The people who clean the floors, drive the buses, maintain the buildings and serve the meals in Williamsburg-James City County schools got pumped up for another school year on Friday with a special convocation for the district's operations staff.
The emphasis of the ceremony at Jamestown High School was relationships with the students.
Marcellus Snipes, the Senior Director of Operations for the district, told the employees not to look past the impact they can have on students.
"You teach in so many ways as well. They see you, and you are a model for their behavior," Snipes said.
That sentiment was echoed by Special Education Instructional Specialist Pete Grabowski, who told the audience that children who can name one adult who cares for them are more successful in school.
"That person could be you," Grabowski said
The occasion was used not only to encourage the operations staff for the upcoming school year, but also to recognize their efforts from last year. Several staff members were recognized for perfect attendance and for outstanding effort.
Darlene Romaine, a custodian at Jamestown High School, took home the highest honor given to operations staffers.
Snipes read an email he had received from a teacher describing how Romaine had spoken to a particularly unruly class about the importance of character. The email described Romaine as a co-worker who listened to the teacher's frustrations and looked for a way to be supportive.
Snipes said it is not unusual to hear stories about operations workers offering that type of help to teachers and students, and it was hard to decide who should receive the award this year.
"I get those kind of stories all the time. There were tons of them. There so many that I couldn't decide," Snipes said. "It was a very, very tough decision."
Several members of the operations team affirmed that the interactions with the students are what make them enjoy their job.
"I love my job. You're like a psychologist, a therapist, a doctor, a nurse, a mom, a dad and a teacher," Bus-driver Lesley Bradby said.
Misty Moff drives a bus for special needs students, and she agreed with Bradby.
"I love (the students). They are very sweet," she said. "They go through so many struggles, and yet they're happy. It makes you appreciate life."
Bradby said being a bus driver requires a special balance of discipline and personality. She said she sings happy birthday to her students, and they often end up asking if they can sit in the front near her. But she has also pulled her bus to the side of the road, put the bus in park and pulled out a book to read when a group of students refused to obey.
While most of the convocation was celebratory, the event included a reminder of an alleged assault on a child by two operations staff last school year.
In June, bus driver Kenneth R. Spencer and his wife and bus aide Laura Spencer were charged with assault and battery after video footage showed them verbally abusing a special-needs student.
Police believe the couple also pinned him to the seat, slapped him, spit on him and forced his arms over his head so he couldn't breathe, said James City County Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Rubino.
Snipes highlighted several accomplishments of the operations staff, but he reminded the staff that all the positive work they had accomplished over the past year could be overshadowed by such an incident.
"Your relationships matter," Snipes said. "What you do matters. You matter."
McKinnon can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.