Thursday, August 28, 2008

Requiem For A Nightmare: Our School Secretaries Are Leaving

As of tomorrow afternoon, my school will go to Hell in a handbasket. Both of our administrative secretaries are retiring.

In other words, the two people who do the most work, know more about any facet of the school operation and have served as the singular glue preventing the whole place from figuratively and literally collapsing are headed out the door.

I think I speak for the staff when I say we are shuddering collectively at the prospect. I wish I could say that I/we are kidding.

A teacher's reliance on a good administrative secretary is immense. It is not an overstatement to say that the quality of secretary has more to do with the quality of a school than any single teacher on campus. In fact, a great secretary can even make up for a bad principal.

I imagine many non-teachers out there are scoffing at the above paragraph. Tellingly, my guess is that very few, if any, teachers would disagree with the above paragraph.

Let's look at the job description for a "Secretary III" , whose starting pay, by the way, is $11.00 an hour:

Requires a High School Diploma or GED. Valid New Mexico Drivers License with liability insurance. Responsibilities may include: updates Computer Database, maintains accounting on APS Purchase Cards; works with a high of volume of accounts (both Activity and Operational), accounts for actual money at work sites, places orders and tracks them on the Financial System, monitors Payroll, composes and creates intricate documents as needed, serves as a point of contact for information dissemination, completes/prepares for special projects/detailed work in a timely manner, participates in development, implementation and maintenance of databases, analyzes information, makes travel arrangements, prepares and distributes reports, correspondence and other documents, provides substitute coverage for any secretarial/clerical position within the B Salary Schedule, provides training for other secretarial/clerical positions within the B Salary Schedule, maintains and updates files and records, schedules and arranges for meetings, maintains a complex filing system, schedules and maintains calendars, works with diverse populations, monitors supplies/materials and equipment for office and receives and orders materials, monitors annual equipment inventory. Preferences include: three to four years of secretarial/clerical experience, business School Training, excellent interpersonal skills, word processing skills, knowledge of operation and capabilities of PC and associated software (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc), exercises initiative and judgment in making decisions affecting work procedures, excellent Telecommunication Skills, excellent Problem Solving Skills, works independently with little or no supervision, self motivator, ability to effectively and independently handle a number of tasks/projects at one time, Working knowledge of Lawson Financial System and of Student Information System preferred, skill in responding to special request, extensive knowledge of modern office practices and procedures, effective communication skills, both verbal and written, flexibility, organization, decision-making and problem solving skills, interpersonal skills with diverse populations in-person and on the telephone, proficient with word processing, database, spreadsheet and/or other software as required by supervisor, ability to meet deadlines and work on multiple projects, computer, business English and basic mathematics skills, ability to accurately keyboard 50 WPM minimum.

And, like most official job descriptions, the giant blob o' text above doesn't capture the reality of the position. Copier broken? It's the secretary's job to fix it herself (and the overwhelming preponderance of school secretaries are women), or call it in to the copier company. Didn't get paid for that after-school program? Talk to the secretary. When is the fire alarm going to be? Ask the secretary. School short on subs today? Get the secretary to make repeated, increasingly desperate pleas over the intercom for teachers to cover the missing periods. No teacher for today's lunch detention? Get the secretary to do it. Where's the principal and assistant principal today? The secretary says they are at a training and there's nobody in the office. So who is handling discipline?

You guessed it...the secretary.

The role and pay of school secretaries is one of those nasty little injustices, nasty because we all know it's there, but try to avoid thinking about it. Added to this is the observable fact that, at least in APS, salary decreases the more Spanish you know. Finding teachers who speak Spanish is very difficult, and those who do are held onto for dear life.

School secretaries are de facto required to speak Spanish (although you may note it's not in the job description), and often end up not only talking to Spanish-only students/parents all the time, but serve as impromptu translators at meetings.

All of this for a starting salary of $11.00 an hour, and that's for a Level III secretary. A Level II starts at $9.62.

And now our two secretaries, who have valiantly held the school together for years, are leaving in tandem. We're having a little going away party for them tomorrow, but it's really more of a wake for the staff. At this point, I don't think we're quite able to psychologically handle the situation. We need a funeral to wake up to the fact they are gone, and that come Tuesday morning, nobody will be able to tell us where the master key to the building is, or what the bell schedule is for the assembly, or where little Johnny ran off to before 7th Period, or the answer to any of the other three billion questions an established school secretary handles in a typical day.

I think I can again speak for the staff of my school when I say: gulp.

Bon voyage school secretaries, you have performed valuable services for years while being paid a ridiculously low salary. In a perfect world, everyone would know how important you are. In the very, very imperfect world of our school, it will be a long, long time before we recover from your absences.


Anonymous said...

Uh-oh, you guys are in deep s...t
now for sure!

Gerald said...

I feel your loss. You have my sympathy.