Next time you see a member of the school staff, thank them. (Courtesy photo)

Schools are made up of more than teachers

When you think about the people who work at your school or your child’s school, your mind might first go to the teachers and the principal.

When you think about the people who work at your school or your child’s school, your mind might first go to the teachers and the principal. These people are certainly at the heart of our school communities.

But, there are many 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.

Today, I want to celebrate some of these important people and share a few examples of great classified employees at SFUSD.

Cafeteria workers

We have over 250 food service workers who provide 33,500 meals per day at 115 schools across San Francisco. In fact, SFUSD is the largest meal provider in the City. One of these food service workers is Dexter James.

Mr. James is always ready to serve up more than just food in the cafeteria at John O’Connell High School. Every day he greets students and colleagues with a smile and a, “How are you doing today?” He encourages students to try new foods and stresses the importance of eating a healthy meal to help them focus on their studies. Mr. James mentioned that he aims to give a warm greeting to everyone, especially to new students he doesn’t recognize, so they will hopefully feel comfortable coming into the cafeteria for fresh nutritious meals.

School security guards

Our security guards are essential to helping keep our schools safe and secure, and I love hearing about security guards who also help create a welcoming school environment.

One example is Dante Washington, who is described by his peers at Bessie Carmichael Elementary School as “consistent and dependable.” He interacts with students in a caring way, cultivating trusting relationships with students so they know he is there to keep them safe and secure.


We want our students going to schools that are safe and also schools that are clean. If you have ever had children in your home, perhaps you can imagine the challenge our school custodians take on every day as they clean up after hundreds, sometimes thousands, of young people at their respective school site. They scrub, they mop, they refill soap and paper towels, and, in between all that, many find time to be part of guiding students.

Miguel Cuellar, a custodian at McKinley Elementary, is one of first to arrive at McKinley Elementary in the morning and among the last to leave. He greets students and makes jokes with them, in Spanish and English. As a custodian at McKinley for the past 17 years, he gives students this advice: to be focused in class, respect their elders and respect the school.


There are more than 1,000 paraeducators who support staff and students at our schools, all the way from preK to 12th grade.

Teanisha Hudson has been a long time paraeducator at Hoover Middle School and, according to her principal, is an example for all educators on how to be that warm demander. Both students and staff members respect her greatly. She is known for passionate commitment to the success of all students, not just in academics, but also in life. Teanisha is described by her colleagues as caring, hardworking, determined and extremely collaborative.

She is also very hip to youth culture and has a great sense of humor. Ms. Hudson extends herself far beyond her required duties to ensure her students feel loved, accepted and supported.

School administrative assistants

School secretaries are often the first person a visitor interacts with when they arrive at a school. They do so much work behind-the-scenes, too, to help students and staff get through the school day.

Alice Lin-Tay, a school secretary at Tenderloin Community School has been lauded for her kindness, thoughtfulness, consideration of others, and ‘can do’ attitude. Ms. Lin-Tay treats all families, students, and staff with respect. As busy as she is, she takes the time to do nice things for others. On a Friday before school started, when teachers were busily setting up their classrooms, Alice made an announcement that there was food in the staff lounge that she had brought in. She not only supports teachers, she also takes the time to support and assist families.

I could go on and on about the wonderful members of our classified staff at each of our schools and our central support offices. In addition to the type of work I described here, there are so many others who keep our schools running with human resources, accounting, building maintenance, school enrollment and so much more.

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.

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

Vincent Matthews is the school superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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