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Q&A with Michele Thomas, recently honored by PECS, Glades County School District

Michele Thomas, left, receives a plaque from the Glades County School District. (Courtesy photo)

Michele Thomas was recently named non-instructional employee of the year for Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School and the Glades County School District. Thomas, from the Brighton Reservation, has been an employee at the school since its inception 15 years ago. Thomas’s history with the school on the reservation began even before it existed.

How were you involved in the creation of PECS?

I was one of the parents trying to convince [the Tribal] Council to build the school. My son was in preschool…we [the parents] realized there was no more language classes when they left preschool. The one-day-a-week pullout program came from that, but we lobbied for a school so they could be taught their Native language every day.

How did you get the job?

I thought working at the school would be a temporary stop for me. I worked for Andrew Bowers and James Billie in politics for years. When Andrew lost an election, I thought this was my chance to be a stay-at-home mom. But when my son went to school, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I called the principal Russ Brown and he said I could have any job I wanted. He was looking for a bridge to the community and said ‘We need a Michele Thomas on this staff.’ I thought it would be two years and then I’d go back to politics, but I couldn’t leave the school. I love working with these kids and I liked having time off for Christmas, spring break and summer. I see myself staying right here until I retire. I’m 54 and I’ve seen people wait too long to retire and not be able to do the things they wanted to do in retirement. I don’t want to be one of those people; I want to enjoy retirement.

What is your title and what is your job description?

I am the administrative assistant to the principal, but I am also the liaison between the school and the community and the school board. In administration you have to be flexible. If you see a need, someone has to cover it. We step in wherever we are needed. Lately I’ve been a bus monitor because of contact tracing. It’s nice to connect with the kids one on one. I have the opportunity to interact with the youth of our community and see the light in their eyes about education and I get to learn what their dreams and fears are. Some of the kids who were there when I started are parents now and their kids are in these halls. We have a second generation of kids coming through now. I love being part of their educational success.

What are some of the challenges?

The pandemic and the Covid gap. We are trying to bridge the gap that was created by virtual learning. It’s a big gap for some kids, but for those students who don’t need extra resources, we don’t see it as much. We were blessed to have had the mechanisms in place when we had to close down. But we would have liked to have them on campus, there’s not a doubt in our minds. The school still has a virtual learning option, but only a small percentage took it; 98% of our students are back in school face to face.

How did you get chosen as the school’s and the district’s non-instructional employee of the year?

Every school choses a non-instructional employee of the year, the staff votes on it. Then the principal writes a recommendation letter to the district. I know every one of those ladies who were nominated and they are all crucial to their schools. We were all deserving. It’s an honor to be selected by my peers. It’s the second time for me; I was also selected after our first year. We have a great team here. My job is to do whatever I can do to make their job easier in the classroom, to be as helpful as I can. I enjoy being part of this environment and seeing students reach success. I beam when they graduate; their success is our success. We are blessed in this community because we are afforded the opportunity to provide an excellent education to our children. Tribal Council is committed to our youth, so we are able to keep them in our community and educate them in our backyard.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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