Yvonne Dean saw her husband retire while their two daughters were preparing for college and decided to take work as a substitute teacher in the Bremerton School District.
That was 1988.
On Tuesday she was celebrated by fellow members of the Bremerton Professional Education Association. Dean is retiring.
“We’re going to be lose a historian,” said Wanda Liner at Tuesday’s regular meeting that turned into a tribute. “We’re going to have some big shoes to fill, especially in the union.”
The union is made up with the school district’s equivalent of the “people for that.” You know, like that time you spilled the shrimp sauce on the carpet at Alex Rodriguez’ house. You started to clean it up yourself, but Alex gently reminded you not to worry, that “We have people for that.”
The “people for that” in the school district do clerical work, manage offices and serve as paraeducators and custodians. If the school district were a human body, the BPEA and its statewide union, the Public School Employees of Washington, would be the liver. I know no one wants to be called “the liver,” but take one out of your body try living without it. You can’t.
There were moments Tuesday, too, when it became clear that there are times these employees feel as unappreciated as a liver. There are contract talks at play now, and not everyone is happy about the direction those are going.
Dean started as a sub, then worked as a clerical assistant and office assistant at Crown Hill Elementary, Magnuson Community School and the district’s business, maintenance and transportation offices. She didn’t drive the buses, (“No way would they get me on a bus with 70 kids behind me,” she said. “That takes a special person.”) but she handled transportation issues in the office so a bus driver could focus on driving a route.
“I have grandkids,” Dean said when asked why she’s retiring. “It’s time for a change.”
Change is something she has seen over 24 years. One thing she mentions is how parents are much less willing to accept responsibility for what their children do now than when she started working in the district. Before, a child acting up in class would lament that the “worst thing was Mom and Dad were going to know and they would do something.” She also said all the technology available has made us all less willing to look at each other and say, “Hi.” That, she said, will prove difficult for today’s kids. “I understand it’s great, but we need to communicate.”
My recollections from my years in school were that some of the classified employees we met were among our favorite personalities. Olie was the custodian at my elementary school and Bernie served that role in high school.
Even if we didn’t know them directly, they certainly had an impact. When I tried to ditch school it wasn’t a teacher I tried to trick into believing I was my dad. I went to school that day at the gentle prodding of a nice woman whose name I no longer recall. Nonetheless, she had as much to do with my education experience as some of the teachers. I just didn’t know it or appreciate it at the time. So many important things were done for us students, things we never had to notice because the school district made sure we had “people for that.”