South’s in-person staff adapts to revamped roles


Unbeknownst to students and staff who walked the halls of South on Friday, March 13, it would be their last time in the building for a while. While South students were able to continue their learning virtually in the spring, numerous staff members, including South’s maintenance team, were left in fear and confusion as rumors circulated about job losses, according to administration officials.

Casey Wright, associate principal of administrative services, stated that members of South’s maintenance team, unable to work from home, were fearful for their jobs during the school’s shut down, as there were no remote assignments available for them. However, none of the custodial staff lost their jobs and were able to transition back in-person starting in the spring, Wright said.

“The district was committed to having all of our essential workers return, including non-certified staff,” Wright said. “[The maintenance staff] started in the spring, they worked, [and then they] transitioned back [to South] slowly as it became safe. Now they’re back full time.”

The dynamic within the department has also changed, Wright stated. Since the custodial staff returned to South, they are unable to spend their lunch and breaks together, and they miss seeing students.

“There’s no break room [anymore],” Wright said. “They loved having breaks together, during the day or after school. [But] the biggest part for all of us [is that] we miss the kids, all of our staff does.”

Ronald Bean, dean of students, shared more information about the security staff, a group that had the option to either stay virtually or work in-person jobs. The security staff has experienced changes from their routines pre-Covid-19, but Glenbrook administrators have identified new roles to keep them employed. Bean shared that many precautions are being taken due to Covid-19 and many administrators are creating new jobs as a result of the pandemic.

“[Staff] are monitoring the entryways to make sure that when kids come in that they’re doing health checks and they’re checking people’s temperature,” Bean said.

Furthermore, Bean said that staff were providing in-person assistance for students during e-learning when it is the safer option for them.

“Some of the instructional assistants are supporting and working with kids in a classroom while they do e-learning here at school because it’s safer for them to be here in some situations more so than it is to be at home,” Bean said.

Quest Foods supplies food to schools around the country, including South. However, during the pandemic, many of their operations required change, as there was no one at the schools for them to deliver food to. Quest Manager Rebecca Cohen explained that almost everything has been altered to fit new guidelines, and noted that adjusting to the constant changes required cooperation and adaptability.

“Honestly, we’re doing everything differently this year,” Cohen said. “It’s like a whole new company because we had to adapt to Covid-19. We have one plan in place and then it changes, or something happens. So you just have to be adaptable.”

Cohen noted that Quest has done its best to support their employees during this difficult time, and pointed out that the company kept paying its employees during the lockdown and avoided firing anyone.

“We were one of the first companies to receive a personal protection loan,” Cohen stated. “We were able to pay every single person on [our] payroll for ten weeks because of that loan. We also continued their benefits, like their health insurance throughout that time.”

Cohen explained that Quest’s priority is to make sure that people are eating enough. The company set up food pantries in the area so that food and other resources are available to those who need them.

“[Our goal is] to serve as many families in need as possible,” Cohen said. “We’d love to get more families that are on the free/reduced program. We want to [provid] great food for them and it’s one less thing they have to worry about.”

First Student, the bus company used by GBS to transport students to and from school grounds, has also had to adapt and overcome since March 16, when in-person learning was closed indefinitely. First Student has adopted a policy of protecting and supporting its staff members, Porcha Murphy, liaison for District 225 and head of communication between First Student and South, explained.

“Everyone’s voice is heard,” Murphy said. “We have weekly meetings with the drivers and we do Zoom meetings so their opinions are heard. And they know they can come and talk to anyone if they have any concerns.”

Murphy explained that many of the drivers have worked the same job for several years, yet the pandemic and its new health protocols now prevent them from going inside the building and even eating lunch at their regular locations.

“Everyone is still adapting,” Murphy said. “Some people have been here for 30 years and now this is a whole new life for them.”

As everyone adapts to the new normal, Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel, stressed the importance of supporting staff members’ livelihoods while continuously keeping the community safe.

“I was not so much concerned with people’s jobs, [for] I mostly was worried about people’s safety,” Fagel said. “[GBS staff members] are heroes, they are amazing. Not only have they adapted, tried new things and asked for help, but they’ve also maintained a positive attitude.”

Many staff members confirm Fagel’s claim of putting her staff’s needs as a priority. Instructional Assistant Elizabeth Nestos said Bean and Fagel were incredibly attentive when she experienced a stomach pain while in the building, ensuring the safety of herself and others in case her situation was Covid-19 related.

“I just think it’s fascinating how brilliant these people are and how much they care about their staff and students,” Nestos said.

*Katherine Abraham, Sarah Al-Jawhar, Tori Appel, Claire Baim, Mia Carr, Ellie Donahue, Carter Johnston, Clare Lanscioni, Justine Liu, Olivia Monckton, Sophie Pederson, Nolan Rachiele, Hafsa Rahman, Molly Thissen and Ella Vick