Education feature: School staff ensures smooth start

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Michelle Cordova, administrative assistant at Highland Elementary School, continued answering phones while those in and around the front office paused for the Pledge of Allegiance.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

It’s 7:50 a.m. Wednesday on the first day of school at Highland Elementary and administrative assistant Michelle Cordova is in high demand.

Six parents are standing near the front office, children dressed in their new school clothes in tow, that need her attention. They have questions that the five teachers in the hallway couldn’t answer.

With each parent’s question, Cordova flits across the office to retrieve the proper form or binder. In most cases, Cordova addresses the children by name and the children answer with a smile and “Hi, Miss Michelle.”

“We don’t act like adults, we act like kids. We get down to their level,” Cordova said, referring to the three women who occupy the front office; herself, the school nurse and last year’s attendance secretary who came in to help. “The kids love us.”

Among their duties are pointing parents to their child’s classroom, enrolling students, taking children to class on occasion, handing out supply lists and making last-minute announcements.

School nurse Chris Garcia was also busy as parents and students handed her bottles of pills and inhalers along with doctors’ notes.

Typical first day of school stuff, she said.

“There are kids who you know have a medical condition and need medication at school, but you don’t have their medication,” Garcia said, as she waited for a fax to a doctor to go through. “Then I have medication that I can’t give to them because I don’t have a doctor’s note.

“I want to get everything in order to let the teachers know. Then there is the regular stuff such as nose bleeds.”

After the tardy bell rings at 8:05 a.m., things slow down for the front office. Cordova and former attendance secretary Diana Montoya — who volunteered to help out because the spot hasn’t been filled yet — begin making calls to the home of children registered for school who were not in attendance. Nearby Garcia continues faxing releases and calling doctors’ offices.

Principal Matthew Trujillo said the front office staff plays a vital role in the school’s success.

“They have to have an open, inviting personality. It speaks for the atmosphere of the school,” Trujillo said. “That’s what they see first. They are a model for the children.”

David Briseno, executive director community relations for Clovis Municipal Schools, said the first day of school went smoothly district wide.

Members of the administration were assigned a school or two to visit on the first day. Briseno visited Parkview and Lockwood Elementary Schools and said he saw good things.

“I saw a lot of smiling faces. Lots of kids ready to go back to school.”