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Sugar House Journal

What you didn’t know about school custodians

Oct 04, 2021 11h58 ● By Jet Burnham

Utah’s Distinguished Educational Support Professional for 2022, Mountain Ridge High School Head Custodian Kevan Sprague. (Photo courtesy of Kevan Sprague.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

October 1 is Custodian Appreciation Day. Think you know what a school custodian does? You may be surprised. Once you realize just what is involved, you’ll appreciate them even more.

Custodians are an important part of the school community

Ask any principal and they’ll tell you how important their custodian is to providing a good educational experience for their students. Principal Mike Kochevar said administrators, teachers and students at Mountain Ridge High School all rely on their head custodian Kevan Sprague.

“We're there to serve our kids and he wants to put the best product out there,” Kochevar said. “Whether that's through his interactions with the kids, or just having a clean building, or just doing a little extra here or there to make sure that a teacher is ready for the day, he'll do it and everybody knows it.”

Foothills Elementary Principal Cherie Wilson said her school custodians care for the students and they step in when they see a student who needs help, making them an important part of the education team.

“With any position in school, even a custodian, it's all about the kids,” she said.

The job is more than just cleaning

In addition to daily cleaning, school custodians are also responsible for deep cleaning and disinfecting, groundskeeping, preventative maintenance and repair, building security, energy management and setting up before (and cleaning up after) all school activities, sport events and meetings.

“There's a lot of behind-the-scenes prep to those kinds of things that most people wouldn't even see,” said Steve Peart, head custodian for Jordan District. Some custodians deal with unique responsibilities based on their school. Kauri Sue Hamilton School has a swimming pool, which is maintained by head custodian Autumn Penney. She also handles the type of cleanups unique to a school full of students with special needs.

KSHS Assistant Principal Karl McKenzie said she has a big job of groundskeeping. “We have more trees than any school in the district,” he said. “She takes care of all of those leaves!”

Cleaning methods are hi-tech

“It's come a long way from mopping halls all the time with a mop bucket, and the way you clean bathrooms definitely has come a long way,” said Sprague, who has worked as a custodian for 29 years.

Instead of mops, custodians use ride-on machines, which clean floors quickly and efficiently. Battery-powered vacuums are cordless, and are more efficient and have better filters than their predecessors. And instead of wiping bathroom surfaces by hand, custodians use a machine that sprays and disinfects the entire bathroom, floor to ceiling.

Custodians never stop working

High school events can run anywhere from 6 a.m. until midnight, six days a week, said Peart. Schools have a crew of up to nine full-time custodians, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Last year, when a custodian was out sick or quarantined, or when a school required a deep-cleaning and disinfecting due to an outbreak, extra custodians would show up to help out once they’d finished up at their own schools.

Custodial crews don’t take the summer off, either. They use the three months to deep-clean the buildings.

“By the time the end of the school year comes, a building tends to be kind of worn down,” Peart said. “And then you work all summer, and you get the floors nice and shiny, and the carpets clean, and you have it ready for school to start back.”

Custodians have input on new schools

Sprague worked with contractors and engineers for several months on the designs for both Mountain Ridge High and Copper Mountain Middle School, selecting equipment and furniture that would work best for a learning environment. He talked the architects out of installing glass barriers around the indoor track at MRHS, knowing they would be difficult to maintain.

“He worked with the contractors to make sure that things were being done the way we needed it to be done,” Kochevar said. “He's an advocate, to make sure we put the best product out there.”

Custodial work is a great first job and an investment in the future

Jordan District employs about 500 sweepers, part-time workers who take care of daily cleaning tasks. Because the district is one of the few employers that hires 14 year olds, working as a sweeper is often a teenager’s first job experience. Peart said students learn valuable job skills working as a sweeper. Sprague worked as a sweeper as a high school student before becoming a full-time custodian. Peart worked his way through college as a school custodian. He said it is a great option for someone who plans to become an educator because the years they work as a custodian in the school district count toward their retirement.

Custodians like to feel appreciated

Custodians love it when students smile at them enthusiastically, greet them with personal nicknames and give them fist bumps. They like it when teachers thank them for the extra little things they do for them.

And they like receiving awards. Sprague received a top custodial recognition this spring when he was selected as Utah State Employees Association’s Custodial Educational Support Professional of the Year. From there, he was chosen to represent all support professionals in the state as the Distinguished Educational Support Professional for 2022. He is now in the running for a national level award (and $10,000) as well as another state award.

Principals love their custodians

“We appreciate our custodians because they help to keep our building clean so we can have our students in-person despite the pandemic. They go out of their way to make sure that everyone's needs are taken care of. They greet our students and staff with a smile-- we can tell, even through their masks.” Principal Erin Carrabba, St. Andrew Catholic School

“She looks for things that just need to be done. Before you think that you need to ask for it, she's already gotten on it and fixed it.” Assistant Principal Karl McKenzie, Kauri Sue Hamilton School

“The thing that I appreciate the most about them is their willingness to help.” Principal Cherie Wilson, Foothills Elementary