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American Education Week: Thank you Educational Support Professionals!

Support, simply put, means to assist or help. That is precisely what the educational support professionals within the Kent School District (KSD) do daily. Their role, whether a para-educator, nutritional service professional, safety officer, or bus driver, to name a few, is to support students, the community, and fellow staff members. That is exactly what happens in the main office of Kent Laboratory Academy (KLA) thanks to three now-retired KSD employees and the current office staff.

KLA Office StaffJudy Franklin, Connie Ollmann, and Marylyn Yoder were members of Team KSD for over 20 years and have worked together collectively since 2006. These three worked so well that they created a system where they were always willing to support each other and anyone who walked through their office door. KLA principal Stephanie Knipp said, "They would pop up from their office space and work together to help the community; whether it was a parent, student, or staff member, they were there on the fly to help." This support helped to create a welcoming atmosphere in the office as well. According to Knipp, "It was that cohesive teamwork, and when we talk about the warm and welcoming environment, I would say those three practically invented that concept because of how people would walk in and immediately feel like they were seen, heard, valued and their reason for being there mattered." The teamwork of Franklin, Ollmann, and Yoder didn't just impact the office, but it had a positive impact in the classroom as well. Assistant Principal Evan Barbour said, "The teamwork and collaboration was such a model for our teachers with co-teaching or how you do things collaboratively." This is a critical piece at KLA because working collaboratively with each other is such a value of theirs, and these three women, "were such exemplifiers of that" according to Barbour.

After working together for 16 years, these women had also developed a way of doing things, but still, they found the timeKLA Office Staff to mentor incoming office staff members. Barbour said, "It wasn't, 'here's what we do, here's what you do.' It was, 'Hey, come join us.'" Because of this inclusive environment, the new office staff, Jose Esqueda Hildalgo, Alejandra Duran-Ruiz, and Miranda Gron, felt welcomed and naturally began asking questions and wanting to learn more. "These three office ladies took the time and saw the potential in all of them, so they started sharing more about their jobs and started cross-training, so by the time they were retiring, all three of our new people had the skills, the practice, and the on the job training," said Barbour. Knipp agreed, "the transition was seamless. It was a legacy investment. They poured themselves into this new team because they could see beyond just the scope of their time here. That was their gift to us." Hidalgo, the current office manager at KLA, adds, "I wish I would've started working with them earlier just because they were such an amazing group of people. They made it so easy to start the first day that it felt like I had been working with them for years." He was the first person on the new office staff team that began at KLA and had never previously worked in a school building. Gron, the current registrar, had just moved to Washington a few months before starting at KLA and said her experience was amazing. "I felt right at home, and everyone always helped me with all of the million questions I had. It was one of my first experiences coming out here (to Washington), and I felt part of the team right away." 

Although their predecessors have retired, Knipp and Barbour agree that the atmosphere they've created remains through Hidalgo and his team. He said, "When I first learned they were leaving, I knew I had to keep the welcoming environment and friendliness going." He and his team have done so and then some. Barbour said the new office staff has "taken that foundation, and they've put their new spin on it." They do this through attendance awards and making an effort to learn about what the students are into nowadays. A favorite amongst students is playing Uno with Hidalgo and his team during lunch. When asked why his team does this, Hidalgo answered, "Building connections is important. Whether it’s with the students, other staff or families, it’s important. They (Franklin, Ollmann, and Yoder) taught me that."