Saturday, June 13, 2009
Save Our Secretary!
(Above: Ms. Wendy)
At any successful school, there's usually one key person who really makes the place work. Often, it's the principal, but not always.
At Sequoia Elementary School in Oakland, it's the school secretary, Wendy Larson - or, as the kids call her, Ms. Wendy. She's a combination of Mother Teresa and Radar O'Reilly from M*A*S*H.
If you get a boo-boo on your knee, Ms. Wendy will clean it and put a Band-Aid on it. If you're hungry because you missed a meal, she'll feed you. If your parents are late picking you up after school, she'll let you stay in her office, even if you're there far later than 4 p.m., her official quitting time.
If there's a fight on the playground, she'll break it up and soothe the ruffled feathers. If you need to finish your homework, she'll let you do it in her office at recess or lunchtime.
When Principal Kyla Trammell is off campus to attend district-wide principals meetings, Ms. Wendy runs the show. In fact, when Trammell was out last fall on maternity leave, Ms. Wendy was the de facto principal.
The kids adore her, and the teachers consider her their most valuable asset.
So what is her reward for 24 years of such selfless, dedicated service?
She was just notified by the school district that, because of budget cuts, she's being bumped by someone with more seniority. She's being offered a three hour per day job at another school across town, with a lower pay rate and no benefits.
The kids are devastated, but they're not giving up without a fight.
They have launched a letter writing campaign to the school board to save their beloved Ms. Wendy.
"The soul of our school would be gone without her," wrote a 5th grader named Allison. "It would be like milk without cookies, or even peanut butter without jelly!"
"She isn't only a secretary; she's a friend," wrote a 4th grader named Kelly. "She makes us feel better when we're sad. She makes sure we take our pills if we have to. You can't take her away from us!"
Kristin, a 3rd grader, wrote, "One time when I was sick and I threw up in the hallway she helped me to the office and gave me some water and told me to lie down. She really helps us."
Perhaps most touching are the letters from the youngest kids, who illustrated their messages with their own drawings.
One little girl named Emma drew a picture of herself with tears running down her cheeks, and she's saying, "Please let her stay."
Another girl named Jemaya drew stick figures of herself and Ms. Wendy. Jemaya is saying, "Please don’t leave us," and Ms. Wendy is saying, "Don't worry, Sweety. I promise."
And there are 350 more letters just like them.
So will this story have a happy ending? Don't hold your breath. I talked with Gary Yee, who represents that area on the school board, and he's a fan of Ms. Wendy, too. But he says nothing can be done; it's all in the union contract.
When I was these kids' age, I was taught that for every wrong, there's a solution if you work hard and play by the rules.
It saddens me that they are about to find out it's not true.