BRIGHTON — Dropping children off at school, and getting them from kindergarten to graduation, is a process with which most parents are innately familiar. Parents get to know different teachers throughout their child’s school years. But how many think about what or who makes the daily school routine run smoothly outside the classroom?
While teachers deliver direct instruction to students, other staff members provide a seamless learning environment. Often they go unnoticed, but their work is vital to daily operations.
At Brighton’s Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School (PECS), several noninstructional administrative staffers set the bar for managing a successful school.
Administrative assistant Michele Thomas
Administrative assistant Michele Thomas, who has been with PECS since the school’s opening in 2002, has a long roster of duties: planning field trips, planning staff conferences, assisting with daily operations, assisting with and being a member of the Parent Teacher Student Organization, serving on the Board of Trustees and assisting the principal with planning special projects.
Anyone who has ever been in the PECS office is aware she is often stepping up to fill the “other duties as assigned.” Thomas brings with her the added value of being a community member and a Tribal member, which allows her to quickly assist with many situations that arise daily.
“The biggest impact to the school is my knowledge of (the Tribe) and Tribal culture,” Thomas said. “I also feel the students feel a connection with me because I am a part of many of their lives here at school and in the community.”
Throughout her career, Thomas has been employed with the Seminole Tribe in various positions. She said working at PECS is very different from direct work with the Tribal community and government because she is able to interact with youth and see the world through their eyes.
“My favorite part of the day is when I am invited into a classroom to watch students perform, recite, read, et cetera,” she said. “They are so proud of the task they have mastered and I am proud to cheer them on.”
Thomas believes the school has had a significant impact in the Brighton community.
“I feel our children are more confident, self-assured and willing to step outside of their comfort zones,” she said. “I see the pride they have for their school and that warms my heart daily.”
Guidance counselor Jeanine Gran
Every school employs school guidance counselors who spend their days advocating for students’ academic, career, personal and social success. They assist students with class scheduling, special testing and college and career counseling. With budget cuts, counseling has evolved into much more.
Jeanine Gran serves as PECS Guidance Counselor for grades K-8. On a typical day, Gran assists with daily operations including opening gates, greeting parents and students, signing in tardy students, monitoring attendance, working on newsletters and the yearbook, preparing students for the FCAT, testing students, registering them, tutoring, and counseling students and parents.
“I feel like I make an impact with my abilities to reach out to the students, parents and faculty and be accessible whenever they need me,” Gran said. “Keeping a positive and nonjudgmental attitude will go a long way when helping students in their everyday dilemmas.”
During her years as a guidance counselor, Gran has worked with more than 780 students at one time. At PECS, she works with 257 students, which allows her to give more individualized attention.
“This is a great place to work. Many times I refer to it as home because that is the way it makes me feel,” Gran said. “I love every part of my day, especially my mornings when I greet my students and receive some morning hugs.”
As Gran sees the national graduation rate declining with little assistance at the state level, she feels strongly about creating an atmosphere that is conducive to helping every child succeed.
“There are some children who are academically challenged and need to look at vocations for their future. Hopefully, we will be able to offer such classes in our future,” she said.
Gran said the class size and quality of teachers and paraprofessionals at PECS allow the school a tremendous advantage in ensuring each child reaches full potential.
Receptionist Pam Rhodes
At school, the first person you see is often a predictor of the rest of the experience. At PECS, receptionist Pam Rhodes is that person, and her position has earned great respect from other staffers. Constantly in motion, Rhodes is the central hub through which most of the school’s daily happenings are channeled. She does it all without hesitation.
“I can tell you Pam has the hardest job and I find it difficult to juggle everything when filling in for her,” Thomas said. “She does not have the ability to close the door to complete a task.”
Rhodes finds working at PECS as a big change from her past jobs.
“I went from managing a busy office for nine years and dealing with a multitude of customers to entering a school filled with smiling little faces that has definitely provided me with a positive change,” she said.
Bookkeeper Cecelia Thomas
With PECS’ growth came the realization that a few staffers could not handle every aspect of the administrative process. The school recently hired Cecelia Thomas as its bookkeeper to maintain accounts, correspond with vendors, handle mail distribution, complete staff orders and keep records of school accounts.
Thomas, a Tribal member, also has children who attend PECS.
“I learned that this school is the best thing to happen to this community on many levels,” she said. “I get to come to school with my own kids and go home with them. The uniqueness of this school is that we all know each other.”
School Resource Officer Darryl Allen
Both PECS staff and the Tribe realize the importance of guarding children’s safety. The Seminole Police Department’s School Resource Officer (SRO) Darryl Allen watches over students and staff, monitors the camera system and participates in school events. Allen strives to let students and parents see beyond the uniform and get to know the man inside.
“Kids are exposed to way too much in and outside of their homes, and the trend is that society is adapting to this new generation instead of the kids adjusting to the old ways of doing things,” he said. “I deal with this by staying true to my ‘old school’ way of dealing with students.”
Allen believes in treating students with respect and expects the same in return. And while many school budgets no longer afford an SRO position, Allen said it is of great value.
“Far too many times we live with the attitude that it’s never going to happen to us,” he said. “I approach each day with the attitude that it can happen to us, and I think if other schools were given the option of an SRO, they would do so in a heartbeat.”
On any given day, Allen will not only be keeping the school secure but will also be scheduling sporting events and coaching. He serves as PECS athletic director and girls’ softball coach, and he enjoys the extra responsibility: “Sports allow kids to express themselves through physical activity. Sports can teach so many valuable tools and skills that can last a lifetime.”
Principal Brian Greseth
Principal Brian Greseth is the glue that binds the PECS staff together. He joined the staff a couple years ago with an extensive and impressive resume – more than 30 years of experience in education, including 16 years serving as principal at various schools.
Greseth’s vast experience prepared him for his leadership role at PECS, but he acknowledges the unique situation.
“The Charter School has been a much more caring and nurturing environment for the students,” he said. “Staff, students and parents work much more closely together than at other public schools I have been associated with.”
Greseth’s efforts toward developing and maintaining excellent teachers and staff and building a strong school community are evident.
“I think I would be called a servant leader,” he said. “I try not to ask someone to do something I would not do myself. I think the staff work with me and not for me.”
Greseth said he manages based on a “Y” leadership style – leadership based on the perspective that people are assets to be valued and developed.
Many years ago, Greseth got some positive feedback from former Florida State University coach Bobby Bowden, who said, “I have been fortunate enough to surround myself with people who know as much or more about football than I do.”
Remembering those words, Greseth has incorporated the same philosophy as a leader.
“At Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, I am fortunate to have an excellent staff surrounding me,” he said. “I feel this is a key to the success of our school.”