Role of gatekeeper a primary focus for school secretaries
Feb 02, 2013 (Herald-Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
As secretary of Arlington Heights Elementary School, Candi Arnold keeps busy answering the phone, directing substitute teachers where to go, fixing the troubled copier, making sure students know how they are getting home, and buzzing in visitors.
When she's not performing those traditional duties, Arnold is helping students with tasks like digging through the lost and found and occasionally soothing a scraped knee.
But the most important thing, Arnold said, is making sure she does her part to keep students safe.
"I think my role is gatekeeper, to keep the kids safe, to protect them the best I can from the outside world while their parents are entrusting them to us," Arnold said.
Enter any MCCSC school and the first person you will see is the school secretary, especially since almost all of the corporation's schools require visitors to be buzzed into the building during school hours.
For decades, secretaries have directed the flow of schools, answering phones, greeting visitors, helping organize administrators and communicating with parents. But over the years, the role school secretaries play in keeping staff and students safe has increased. At MCCSC, secretaries essentially decide who can and cannot enter a school, a role Arnold takes seriously.
"I look at it like if it was my own children," she said. "When they are here during the hours of 8 and 4, they are our kids. We love them all, and we want to protect them."
Arnold's affection for the students of Arlington Heights is clear. As students piled into the school Thursday morning and the phone continued to ring, Arnold was all smiles as she spoke to students, directed substitutes and communicated with teachers.
Her ability to juggle many tasks does not go unnoticed by principal Shannon Carroll-Frey.
"She's the copy expert, she's the safety expert, she's the welcome wagon, she knows all the parents, all the kids, all the teachers . she's really amazing," Carroll-Frey said. "I think that's true of all of our secretaries in the district. They wear many hats, and we're lucky to have them."
Having worked for the district for 25 years, serving as a health aide, guidance secretary and school secretary, Arnold said there is no doubt schools, just like the world, have changed.
No longer can parents or visitors freely walk through a school or into a classroom. Arnold's desk must be staffed at all times.
Although security is more of a focus now than ever, Arnold said she doesn't dwell on the negative. Instead, she focuses on the students.
"(Seeing the kids is) my favorite part of the job," she said "That's why I come to work every day, because I love the kids. They know me and I know them."
Stern but friendly
It has been less than a year since Justine Anderson began her job as Bloomington High School North's secretary.
But she quickly latched on to the idea that while she wants to create a friendly and welcoming environment, she also wants to ensure that procedures for visitors and students are followed.
"My main duty is to check people in and out of the building," Anderson said. "I have other secretarial type duties, but mostly it's to escort people to and from their appointments and make sure everyone who's coming in is properly identified and should be here."
Unlike at Arlington, Anderson doesn't have to buzz visitors in -- North visitors automatically are funneled through the school's office.
But as with all MCCSC schools, North visitors must sign in and wear a visitor's nametag. If they are picking up a student, they must also show identification.
Recently, North staff also began escorting visitors to and from their destinations.
While schools at the elementary level may have specific busy times -- mornings and lunchtime are busiest for Arnold -- for Anderson, there is no telling when a line might form at her desk.
In addition to visitors, North students who are late or leaving the building must also sign in through Anderson.
"It's very random," Anderson said of when she is busiest. "All of a sudden we can have a lot of traffic . and it can be just about anything and everything."
Teachers and staff also try to make Anderson aware when they are expecting visitors.
North principal Jeff Henderson said it isn't about creating a rigid, unwelcoming environment but more about creating standards that keep students and staff safe and in an uninterrupted learning environment.
"We don't want to create an environment where kids feel like they are in prison every day," Henderson said. "Schools should be a warm and welcoming place with appropriate and necessary precautions being taken to make sure the folks who are in the building belong here."
Like others in her position, Anderson said she tries hard to create that balance.
"For the most part, I think it's a welcoming and consistent program, and that makes (students) feel comfortable," Anderson said.
And she definitely takes her role seriously. In fact, when she first started her job last fall, she was not familiar with all of the faces of MCCSC and ended up asking Superintendent Judy DeMuth to sign in.
Anderson can laugh about it now -- DeMuth had no problem being asked to sign in -- but it shows her dedication to making sure she does everything she can to ensure no one gets past her who shouldn't.
"I don't think of it as 'I just sit at my desk and read a book all day.' I'm very vigilant and make sure I'm aware of my radio and the telephone ringing, and I think having good communication is always important. Just be aware of your surroundings and communicate quickly and be on top of your job."
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