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Story, photos and video by Jo Mathis
AAPS District News Editor
They know every name, can handle every emergency, and answer the doorbell 80 times a day.
On Administrative Professionals Day, AAPS honors its 105 office professionals and five executive assistants who fill so many important roles every day.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift noted that AAPS office professionals are valuable members of the educational family, contributing a great deal to the district with their dedication and conscientious service.
“Our office professionals have the challenging task of being our front of the house public relations ambassadors as well as the behind-the-scenes support for completing the numerous daily tasks that are crucial to a well functioning organization,” she noted. “Their wealth of knowledge, keen awareness of procedure, and the extra step our OPs take to show care in the workplace ensures that our offices and buildings operate efficiently.”
Swift said they are often the first people visitors see when arriving at AAPS campuses, and that they make sure all feel welcomed and supported.
The AAPS District News chose three longtime elementary office professionals to profile today. Two are retiring at the end of the school year.
Robin Brown, Lawton Elementary
When Robin Brown was diagnosed with stage four melanoma three years ago, no one would have blamed her if she had taken time off for her chemotherapy treatments.
But Brown knew that keeping in touch with the kids would help with her healing.
Principal Shannon Blick says Brown credits the kids and how much she loves her job for helping her survive cancer.
“Robin would go from work, get a chemo treatment and then come back here within the day,” she said.
“It’s true,” said Brown. “I begged them not to take me off work because I needed the kids to help me get through. And they did!”
The Belleville native started working at AAPS in June 1987 after working at a bank for several years and realizing she wanted to work with students. When she was offered a job at both AAPS and the University of Michigan, she chose AAPS, and has worked at Balas, Pioneer, Wines, and—for the past five years—Lawton.
“I love kids, and going to elementary is the best move I made,” she said.
She agrees that an elementary OP is one of the hardest jobs in the district.
“You are multi-tasking 20 different things at one time and just trying to keep your head above water,” she said, before handling yet another interruption with a smile. “I think the interruptions would surprise people. Parents sit here and see me juggling the phone, calling kids down, letting people in the front door, kids losing a tooth or a bloody nose …”
Still, the kids make it all worthwhile, she said, noting that she feels as if she has 465 children.
“Being with them, hearing what they’re going to say, if they’re sick, giving them hugs, just taking care of them like I’m their mom,” said Brown, who has one child of her own.
She says that while her title is secretary to the principal, it’s that and much more.
“Pretty much, I’m secretary to the whole building,” she said. “I do the payroll, I do the finance. I fix the laminator. I fixed the copier today.”
What happens when she’s sick?
“I get a good sub. A retired elementary secretary subs for me and she knows everything,” she said. “That’s very comforting.”
Blick calls Brown “the better half of everyone in the school.”
“She’s grandmother to all the kids, partner to all the parents, and a significant other to every one of the staff members,” Blick said. “She’s one of a kind. I honestly could not do my job without her.”
Kathy Kyle, Burns Park Elementary
Office professional Kathy Kyle, who retires in June, has been with the district for 23 years, the last 11, at Burns Park. Though she enjoyed her jobs at Pioneer and Huron as well, she’s happy she made the move to elementary.
“It’s a smaller setting and you have more of a relationship with all of the teachers and know who everybody is and who the kids are,” she said. “I really like the high school kids, too. They were fun in other ways, but I really love the innocence of the little ones and seeing how they change so much from kindergarten to fifth grade.”
She admits it’s a challenging job to stay on top of things.
“You’re on eight hours a day and there isn’t any quiet time,” she said.
When asked to describe a typical day, Kyle laughed as if there is no such thing.
Answering the doorbell now that school buildings are kept locked throughout the district has added another responsibility, with the number reaching more than 100 on days when there are lots of activities.
She said it’s hard to keep track of all the funny things kids say during the course of a day.
“One of the first years I was here, a little boy in kindergarten came in from the bus weeping: `Shorty called me fat!’”
“I said, `Shorty?’”
“What’s Shorty’s other name?”
“I don’t know!”
“Do you think he likes you to call him Shorty?”
“How about if you ask him for his other name and you tell him your name, and then you call each other by these names?”
Another time she got her hair cut over winter break. Though she was going for the spiked look, her new do resembled a lawn growing on her head, she recalls with a laugh. A little girl took one look and said, “Your head is tall!”
“I said, `Yeah, do you like it?’” Kyle said. “(She said)`No!’ You have to have a thick skin to fit in an elementary school.”
Kyle says she’s retiring now because the time just feels right. And besides:
“I’m tired,” she said with a smile. “I have three grandkids in Iowa I don’t get to see very often and I’m missing out on a lot with them. I want that time.”
She also has an elderly mother in Ann Arbor with whom she wants to spend more time.
Principal Chuck Hatt says Kyle’s wisdom, compassion, and organizational skills are “the mortar that hold the bricks of Burns Park Elementary School together.”
“Kathy brings a grandmother’s caring wisdom, an accountant’s budgeting skills, and an emergency nurse’s knowledge and practice to the children, family and teachers, of our school community, each and every day,” he says.
Mary Fishwick, Angell Elementary
After 37 years with Ann Arbor Public Schools—30 at Angell Elementary—Mary Fishwick is set to retire in June.
She wants to spend more time with her 94-year-old father, as well as her two grandchildren who are enrolled in Pinckney schools. The longtime Chelsea resident would also like to take a few art classes.
Still, it’s all bittersweet.
“My whole adult life, this is where I’ve been and I’ve absolutely loved it,” she said. “I love the kids, and the staff. They’re family, really. I feel so fortunate I’ve been here. It’s been awesome, to be perfectly honest.”
What’s the most challenging part of the job she loves so much?
“The equipment breaking down,” she said with a smile. “Technology has changed so much and really helps, but you’re at the mercy of the machines working.”
Parent Candace Bramson says Fishwick plays many roles at the school, and will be very much missed.
“She pretty much knows all the kids and all the parents,” said Bramson. “She’s a smiling face, and a caring presence.”
Added Fishwick: “I’ve been here long enough now that we have kids here whose parents went here.”
She says she’ll miss the funny things kids say day after day, and recalls the time she told an older student who was going home sick that she didn’t see him much anymore.
“I said, `You never get sick, so that’s good, but I miss seeing you,” Fishwick recalled. “He said, `Yeah. Yeah.’ He walks out and a few seconds later comes back, stands at the door and says, `I’ll try to get sick more often, Mrs. Fishwick!’”
“Some day I think I really will write a book.”