Five Princeton School District employees were among central Minnesota school staff members honored this fall at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud for their sometimes-unrecognized roles in education.
The Princeton five were South Elementary head custodian Ken Henchen, high school parking lot supervisor and security assistant Kristy Alderink, middle school head cook Donna Moses, North Elementary head secretary Kim Myers, and district payroll specialist Carol Weber.
Each was chosen from the school they work in to be honored by Resource & Training Solutions at the banquet.
Resource CEO Rob Cavana described support staff members as an integral part of school districts to help them run efficiently on a daily basis.
“They promote student achievement, ensure student safety and contribute to the establishment and promotion of a positive and safe instructional environment,” he added.
Henchen at South Elementary
Long before Henchen became a custodian for the Princeton School District 12 years ago, he put in 30 years in the now former Henchen family grocery business in Princeton. The experience he gained from keeping all the grocery store coolers working
has helped him in his school custodian job, he said last week.
That point was borne out recently when someone was overheard saying they were impressed with Henchen’s ability to solve mechanical problems. He noted how Henchen had handled a situation where a fan motor on an old roof top cooling condenser wouldn’t always turn on when needed because of a flat spot on the motor’s armature. Henchen solved the problem until a new condenser fan motor could be obtained. He set up another fan on the roof to keep the blades turning on the condenser fan.
Henchen began working as a custodian for the school district at the middle school about 12 years ago. After nearly two years at that job, he began custodial work at South Elementary.
“It’s a good job and a lot of people don’t understand why I do this,” Henchen said. He said he likes the job because of the age of the kids he works around, kindergarten through second grade.
“They help people out,” Henchen said. He explained that if they see him picking up some refuse off the floor, they will do that too, or if they see him clean a scuff mark off the floor, they will follow suit.
South Elementary Principal Greg Finck, hearing those comments, said that kids don’t actually get down on the floor to remove a scuff mark, because they can do the cleaning by wiping it with a motion of their shoe.
Henchen also said that the kids are not afraid to “give up their friends” to tell him who might have damaged some property at the school.
Henchen said he believes that custodians and other support staff members have a role just like teachers in educating young people. One of the ways he does this, he says, is talking to them about not wasting things like paper towels or milk.
He said that if he sees a lot of milk being dumped by students after their meal, he will set up a “milk challenge” in which lunch shifts can compete to see which shift throws away the least amount.
Finck called Henchen an “incredibly hard worker” and noted that Henchen is often available to help students dump the contents of their trays after eating.
Henchen plays a part in the Tiger Pride effort of showing respect, Finck said. For example, Henchen will show students “what Tiger Pride looks like in the bathroom,” referring to tidiness and not being wasteful.
It is also not uncommon when there is a repair or building project at South that Henchen will bring in his own tools and supplies, Finck said.
“So he really gives to the school,” Finck said.
Alderink at the high school
Kris Alderink is the face that Princeton High School students (grades nine through 12) can attach to security and driving
behavior in the student parking lots, as well as behavior in the hallways and at athletic events. She has the authority to give in-school tickets to students for infractions. They include not having a parking permit displayed on a vehicle, not registering a vehicle with the school, illegal parking, reckless driving, failure to yield, exceeding the 10 mph speed limit in the parking lots and leaving without a pass.
Alderink has worked for the school district 20 years, starting out in North Elementary as a lunch supervisor for one year, then the same position at South Elementary for about five years, next doing building security at the middle school for a year and finally starting work at the high school 13 years ago. Her first job at the high school was supervising in-school suspension for two years, before moving to her present job.
When Alderink was asked one morning last week what she thinks of her job, she got as far as saying, “I really enjoy it,” before she was interrupted by a school secretary telling her she had to check out a security protocol situation in the building. About seven minutes later, Alderink, with her two-way radio, returned to the high school lobby to continue the conversation. “I like being with kids this age,” she said. “This age is unique. They are going through so many changes.”
Alderink says the variety in her work is appealing. When she begins a new work day she has “no clue what is coming at me,” she said.
Alderink’s typical work day begins at 7:40 a.m. in the south student parking lot to make sure the students are driving at a “reasonable speed” and exhibiting proper behavior” she explained. At 8 a.m. she moves to the east student parking lot to patrol. At about 8:10 a.m. she goes into the school and checks her mail for student vehicle registration transfers. All of the student vehicles have to have parking permits (each requires a fee) and the students’ vehicles must be registered at the office, she noted.
During the breaks between classes when students pass back and forth, Alderink is in the hallways watching, frequently answering questions from students.
“I am always observant about what is going on around me,” she added as she explains how she moves all around the school building.
She also assists when the high school has one of its nearly half dozen lockdown exercises and its fire drills during the year.
Alderink noted that because her job involves writing tickets and dealing with certain infractions, she has to work at “keeping a rapport” with the students.
She says the most difficult part of her job is at the start of every school year when the students have to be explained the parking lot rules. They are given a grace period of the first two weeks before they would receive tickets, she said.
PHS Principal Barb Muckenhirn and Activities Director and Assistant Principal Darin Laabs described Alderink as one of the school’s most reliable staff members.
“Kris is fabulous to work with,” Laabs said. “She is a doer. She is one of those people you give a task to and she will do it. … When you think about what makes a high school tick, she is one of those unsung heroes.”
Laabs noted that Alderink is the one who greets the officials for the football games and makes sure they have water and escorts them between the field and their break place inside the school’s portable building.
Muckenhirn said that Alderink knows almost all of the school’s students and took the initiative to set up a speed trailer on the school grounds during part of this year to show the speeds the students were driving. Muckenhirn also pointed out that Alderink organizes the school’s student of the month program and helps run the recognition of A and B honor roll students. (A new process has begun of awarding each honor roll student a certificate.)
“She’s a great asset to our kids,” Laabs said. “No job is too small for Kris.”
Moses, head cook
Someone has to make sure all the cooks are at their job on time and that the right food supplies are ordered, and that job falls to the head cook. In the case of the middle school, that is Donna Moses.
Middle school food service worker Tammy Graphenteen said that Moses is “wonderful to work with.”
Moses has been a food service worker at the middle school since 1995, of which the past seven years have been as head cook. She is part of a team of six food service workers there, and besides managing the team, she works with district food service director Deanna Cooley. A prime responsibility of the head cook is to make sure the food is nutritious, Moses said.
“I love my job,” Moses said. “I like the variety; I like the challenge,” she added. She noted that the middle school has three different menus each day and contrasted that to the two menu lines that were in the district’s former middle school.
The most difficult part of the head cook job, according to Moses, is when she forgets to order the correct food supplies. In those instances, she said, she might order a special truck to bring the right food in and sometimes gets food from another school in the district.
“She does a nice job leading her team day in and day out,” Middle School Principal Dan Voce said of Moses. “She goes above and beyond to make sure the students have the best and she has quality in mind. She is a great team player at the middle school.”
Myers, head secretary
The public may not know a downside in a secretarial job can be interruptions. Kim Myers, the head secretary at North Elementary, said that is the case for her. She explains that her job demands a large amount of filing, and “constant
interruptions,” such as phone calls and questions, make that challenging.
She said the job is not boring and that she loves her position.
Myers has worked for the school district for 20 years. Her first job was sibling care for the district’s early childhood family education. Later she began substituting for secretaries in the district’s two elementary schools and then at the high school’s front office and media center. Next, she was a volunteer coordinator at the middle school for about four years, after which she was an assistant secretary at North Elementary for about three years before moving to her present position.
“I like the variety,” she said of the job. “I answer a lot of staff questions.” One of her tasks is changing a grade on a report card at a teacher’s request, as Myers is the one authorized to make the change.
Myers’ most memorable time in her job could have been called a giant interruption. It was last February when a snowplow driver inadvertently backed into a corner of the building, causing enough damage to require replacing major electrical equipment. As a result, North Elementary classes were conducted in other locations for about a week.
As far as the daily work for Myers, she said her most challenging time comes at the start of each school year when there is a lot of enrollment paperwork in adding and dropping student names.
Myers said her most enjoyable time in her job was when her two children were attending North Elementary.
“She really helps me,” North Elementary Principal John Beach said about Myers. “She keeps me organized, manages my time and works with teachers who need support. She’s very dependable, very punctual. She works very hard to keep our school running smoothly. She’s the backbone of efficiency to make things work for us.”
Weber with payroll
Carol Weber will begin her fourth year in January as payroll specialist for the district, making sure all the employees get their paychecks and makes the pay adjustments, benefit changes and more.
Her biggest challenge in the job arrived this year when the district went to a new, paperless payroll system. The most difficult part was to learn “on the fly,” she said.
“Unfortunately there is no real down time with payroll, since once you finish one payroll, you start the next one.”
Weber said the transition to the new system had “difficulties, as all new things do, but Princeton has awesome staff and they have learned together and have been very patient through the difficult learning process.
“I love working with the district and love my position,” she said.
Superintendent Julia Espe, whose office is near Weber’s, said that Weber “gives exceptional customer service. She works with our employees to make payroll and benefits understandable. She is eternally positive.”
Espe said that Weber not only planned a successful implementation of the new Time Clock Plus system, but implemented it “very smoothly, as she patiently explained directions to all of us, one by one, over and over again. She has the patience of Job.”