Erminia Benitez, left, and Linda Williams put taco shells into serving baskets at the new culinary center at The Academy - San Francisco at McAteer on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Classified employees are at the forefront of SFUSD’s pandemic response

Last week we celebrated all the teachers whose resilience and creativity have helped our children and youth stay connected and learning throughout the past few months.

This week I want to celebrate more people who are essential to making our schools work for kids, like school secretaries, custodians, security guards, cafeteria workers, and teaching assistants, to name just a few.

In the world of public education, these staff are referred to as classified employees, and the California Department of Education has designated the third week of May as “Classified School Employee Week” to honor the many contributions of classified employees.

While our classified employees do so much when school buildings are open, today I want to share more about how our classified employees have been at the forefront of SFUSD’s pandemic response.

Feeding children

Since closing schools due to the COVID-19 outbreak, SFUSD has distributed nearly 1 million meals to children and families in San Francisco. Each week, the demand for breakfast, lunch and supper meals has risen as the shelter in place continues. Our Student Nutrition Services staff, along with security guards and custodians who help open the meal sites and keep them safe, have been making sure no child goes hungry.

Cecile, a Student Nutrition Services worker at Willie Brown Middle School, said she loves being able to help.

“Kids in the community depend on our breakfast, our lunch, and our supper, so this is the least we can do for them right now. It’s not every day that we get recognized, but this is our job. This is what we do, and we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t care about the kids. I’ve gotten to know most of the kids here, if not all of them. I know them by their first names and I know which foods are their most favorite, their least favorite, which meals they look forward to.”

Ensuring access to technology

With schools closed for the remainder of the school year, our district had to quickly pivot to a Distance Learning Plan. However, even in a region that is widely known as the tech epicenter of the world, 20% of our students were in need of a dedicated computer and internet to access digital learning from home.

To address this need, the district, led by classified staff in the Department of Technology, distributed over 16,000 devices, including Chromebooks and hotspots. SFUSD has taken a creative approach to technology deployment and outreach, using methods ranging from school-site distributions to home shipments and even home deliveries to make sure they’re reaching the students and families who need them most.

And, it’s not only about getting technology in the hands of those who need it to connect during this time — classified staff have supported thousands of teachers, students and families requesting support with accessing their email, online classrooms, setting up their internet and laptops, using video conferencing tools, and more.

Thank you to classified school employees

I could go on and on about the wonderful members of our classified staff at each of our schools and our central support offices. SFUSD classified employees keep our schools running, our children fed, our campuses clean and safe, and provide much needed support for students, teachers and families.

A student at Willie Brown shared this appreciation for Cecile and her co-workers:

“Thank you for your time to help put together breakfast and lunch to students who need it. Your time spent outside, risking yourself can be scary. People like you help the community grow with respect and love. It’s a scary time out there so I hope you are doing everything you can to help yourself stay safe and protected. Words cannot express how grateful I am for your kindness and generosity and I’m sure that you’re aware that the kindness you give is what’s making a difference. It’s always the small things. Thank you!”

If you know an SFUSD classified employee, please make a special effort to thank them this week.

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Franicsco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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