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Perseverance in the Pandemic: Picking up the slack in BES's front office


(BCSD video by Dan Michener - michenerd@bcsdschools.net)

 


Published on Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Regina Buck uses front office computer

BCSD photos / Monica Kreber : Attendance clerk Regina Buck is one of three office staff members at BES who has helped fill in at the front office.

 

Berkeley Elementary is all hustle and bustle well before 7 a.m.

Staff members are already catering to a number of before-school daycare students who have been in the building since 6:30 a.m. Between 7 and 7:30 a.m., students are entering the building from either the car rider line or the bus loop, and the front office staff is answering phone calls and tending to student sign-ins like clockwork.

However, while they are working hard, nobody holds the title of “front office clerk” because as of mid-October, the school has not had one fulltime. There’s three of them making front office operations run smoothly: principal’s secretary Debbie Baggett, attendance clerk Regina Buck and bookkeeper Melanie Hahn.

The front office clerk typically handles answering phone calls and signing in late students first thing in the morning, but with understaffing it is all falling on these three employees, who are handling everything in addition to their official duties.

“We get it done, it’s just the understaffing’s difficult," Buck said.

Throw in a pandemic, and it just makes it that much more difficult.

 

Early risers 

Baggett previously worked in real estate but started at the school in 2005 as a long-term substitute. She worked in the front office for eight years and moved to her new position as the principal’s secretary about five years ago.

Buck has been at Berkeley Elementary for about eight years. She started in 4K, moved to kindergarten, moved on to the front office, and now maintains attendance through PowerSchool. On state and district levels, PowerSchool archives all attendance information and other student records.

Hahn has been at the school for 14 years, also in various positions. As the bookkeeper, Hahn handles all the financial aspects of the school.

The role of the front office clerk is a critical one, especially in a school with really young children. Berkeley Elementary has kindergarten through second-graders (plus pre-school).

“We need to make sure they are safe and secure and that they’re getting where they need to go,” Hahn said.

If one were to ask any of the front office staff what is the busiest part of their day, the answer is unanimous: morning arrival and afternoon dismissal.

Their day starts around 6:30 a.m., turning on computers and cameras and making sure everything is set up for the day. The doors for arrival actually open at 6:55, though parents may show up earlier than that for certain errands – maybe to ask a question or to register a new student.

During that time, the staff stays busy answering phone calls – a lot of them COVID-related – and signing in anyone coming in late. They will also sign in substitute teachers arriving at the school.

The three of them are working hard to keep the front office up and running but, oddly enough, “front office clerk” is not in any of their job descriptions. Since the school has not had one since the start of the year, other employees are picking up the slack.

“None of the three of us that are up there are supposed to be up there – except for maybe lunch time when we have to fill in when someone goes to lunch,” Baggett said. “The teamwork’s great.”

In the morning Baggett is usually pulling tardy cards for anybody coming in late, and then handing them over to Buck and Hahn as they keep track of attendance. The school has a temporary receptionist from Kelly Services who directs students in the hallways to their classrooms (or to where they can pick up a breakfast on their way to class).

The front office team also helps parents throughout the day who have to sign in/out a student or drop off something for a student.

The front office closes near 3 p.m. After that, custodians are still in the building sanitizing and cleaning.

It is a long day, but staff members said doing everything safely sets them up for a successful day.

“It’s hard work, but we’re glad to do it... We want to make sure the children are safe and secure so that they can learn,” Hahn said.

 

Limited interaction

The pandemic has caused understaffing in other areas; Baggett said COVID hit their kindergarten classes hard at the beginning of the school year, resulting in teachers or teacher assistants (or, in some cases, both) to quarantine. The school had to pull from other classes to fill in teaching spots in certain areas.

melanie hahndebbie baggettAnd that’s just part of COVID.

Employees at BES would agree that this year is easier than last year.

“Last year, the virtual versus traditional learning…it was just chaotic,” Baggett said. “We had to call every parent in the school to see what option they wanted to do.”

Families who opted to do virtual or blended distance learning had to be talked through the technological side of that.

The other end was trying to help out the school nurse by taking temperatures and checking students for COVID symptoms, followed up with keeping track of students and staff who are in quarantine – which is an ongoing obstacle this year.

A lot of things are still being done either virtually or over the phone – communication with parents, teacher meetings, webinars and more.

Parents are currently not allowed to enter BCSD’s school buildings during school hours with ongoing COVID restrictions. Berkeley Elementary is further trying to limit the amount of face-to-face interaction with families by setting everyone up with Parent Portal, which provides parents access to their children’s grades, attendance, assignments and more.

When a student is quarantined, teachers communicate with parents on different learning platforms to keep the child up to speed on their work, and the school misses that interaction.

“We want each child in the classroom – that’s where most of them learn best,” Buck said, adding that teachers have had to step up a lot with operating multiple learning platforms.

 

Coming together

Despite the obstacles, Berkeley Elementary assures families that they are working hard to keep students safe and keep operations running smoothly. The school has received a lot of support from the community. Cordesville Baptist Church recently provided a lunch for the staff on the most recent Teacher Work Day, and Berkeley Baptist Church will sometimes drop off snacks and treats for the teachers. Another group provided a bunch of bookbags for students at the start of the school year.

Staff members hold out hope for eventually getting back to “normal” – having award ceremonies, having parents come in the building for celebrations, scholastic fairs, field trips, school events and more.

“We have great administration who are very creative in how they figure out how to do these events and things in ways that children can participate with COVID going on,” Hahn said.

In the meantime, the staff knows what they do is for the good of Berkeley Elementary’s students.

“My principal is absolutely the best,” Baggett said. “She’s very supportive, and she’s also willing to jump in and do whatever’s needed – she will be up there helping to answer the phones, helping parents, if there’s nobody else to do it.”

Buck encourages more understanding and patience as the school navigates the hardships.

“We’re all just trying to come together, and a little more patience and understanding would be great because we’re all in this together,” Buck said.

The front office team maintains a positive outlook as they continue to care for the students during the pandemic.

“We know that spot (front office clerk) will be filled eventually, and we work together to make things happen for the best interest of the children and the safety and security of the school,” Hahn said.

 

 

Monica Kreber
kreberm@bcsdschools.net