Taking care of business

Feb. 7, 2007, midnight | By Marie Mencher | 13 years, 11 months ago

A strange smell crept into the main office, wafting into every corner and lingering in the air until it became intolerable. Finally, secretary Carrie Addison decided to bring out the big guns - she grabbed a bottle of Lysol and directed a few spritzes toward the odor. Shortly after, a teacher walked into the office and noticed the new smell. "Man, who went nuts with the Lysol in here?" he asks. "We had to," Addison responded defensively. The teacher smirked and asked, "Why, somebody dropped a bomb?"

This sitcom-style banter is typical of the staff in the main office, but they are all business when it comes to running the school. "We're the first faces visitors see," explains secretary Robin Platky. "I consider myself an ambassador of the school. I always want to and try to be welcoming and accommodating."

The piles of papers covering each desk indicate the complexity of this task. Pictures of family members and alumni adorn desktops, along with waxy green plants, Wite-Out, glue sticks, writing utensils and a magnetic poetry board. "Professional teachers inspire kids," reads one crooked line. "Active learning in the classroom for students," proclaims another.

One reason for the chemistry in the office is each staffer's understanding her own role in relation to the others. Julie Rivera, another secretary, is bilingual, making her indispensable to the office staff. "You could call me the United Nations translator," Rivera says. "I have a lot of connection with the Hispanic community, especially with parents who have a language barrier."

In the middle of 5A lunch, senior Lily Fischer, a student aide, picks up the phone. She looks confused - she can't understand the person on the other end of the line. "We need a Spanish speaker!" she calls to Rivera. "You see anybody here?" Rivera asks, swamped with other administrative duties. Finally, she concedes, muttering "Ay, Dios mío," before picking up the phone.

If Rivera is the office translator, Platky is the mediator. "Ms. Robin over there, she's good at smoothing things out," Rivera says. Once, when a student was in trouble with the administration, her angry grandfather stormed into the office and began cursing at Platky. But the outburst didn't faze Platky - she just politely asked the man to calm down.

Parent volunteer Elissa Lichtenstein says she admires the way the staff works as a team. "Within the office, it's very collegial," she says. "I've never seen anyone [lose] their temper. They are always patient, no matter how rude kids may be."

Lichtenstein has also noticed that the women of the main office help each other out in times of need. When Cherrie Avery, Principal Phillip Gainous's secretary, took time off of work after her husband passed away, the remaining staff took over her duties uncomplainingly. They answered Gainous's calls and organized his mail, calendar and appointments.

Avery says she wasn't surprised that the office staff filled in during her absence. "These ladies, the office staff - they're always there when something needs to be done," she says. "All the time off was unexpected, but they just picked it up and carried it like it was their job."

Not only does the office staff help one another in times of crisis, they also share family concerns, personal frustrations and accomplishments. "These are my sisters and they support me," Platky says.

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Marie Mencher. Marie is anxiously thrilled to be on the Silver Chips staff. She is having a sleeplessly great time covering stories with actual relevance, but nonetheless would like a little more time to do the other things she loves, like being assistant drum major of the … More »

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