As students file out of second lunch, all that remain are tipped over milk cartons, the crust of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the swishing sound of a broom. In the empty lunchroom, two janitors enter, tossing away the leftover foods and sanitizing tables with spray bottles. Before this month, tables had been left dirty in between lunch periods.
Clean lunch tables as well as other changes around East are a part of SMSD’s recent restructuring of the custodial system. Additionally, other changes include keeping the dust out of the stairwells and restocking the bathrooms consistently.
As of April 8, the district-wide program revamped the current janitorial staff. The policy made sure each school had a full custodial staff, something East hadn’t had since August, since custodians were shuffled to different schools, job descriptions changed and maintenance expectations at each school increased.
According to Associate Principal Briton Haney, who oversees maintenance duties within the building, these changes were much needed. As of Feb. 1 East was down four janitors necessary for the upkeep of the building. Some had moved onto different positions and others had retired, leaving the school with eight permanent custodians and some who split their time between buildings.
According to Haney, this caused inconsistencies in cleanliness, like unstocked paper towels in the bathrooms and multiple maintenance projects were put on the back burner just to keep up with the regular traffic of students.
Haney said that the problem was district-wide, so all custodians who worked for SMSD were made to re-apply in March to make sure the needs of each school were met within the district. Then, each janitor was handed a job offer and reassigned to their new position by April.
“They basically took the entire team and reshuffled the deck and re-dealt them all out so they would all benefit.” Haney said.
English teacher Vicki Tucker is pleasantly surprised with the changes, even though it is only about two weeks old. She saw the immediate changes. After requesting that tables replace the old desks in her classroom back in August, she was impressed to find them in her room within days. Additionally, her white boards and floors are clean every morning.
East’s previous head custodian was moved to Shawnee Mission Northwest and replaced by Hassan Yekzaman. However, the title of head custodian was changed to building manager in order to help restructure the current janitorial management system.The job now involves much more management and delegation, while the previous description included general custodial duties in addition to running the upkeep of facilities.
After a walk-through of the school with principal John McKinney, Yekzaman saw serious areas of improvement and set to work devising plans. Custodians are now instructed to have floors, windows and white boards clean, as well as classrooms dusted and carpets vacuumed, something that was previously unclear and not enforced. Now that custodians have distinct duties for each wing they clean, there is less of a grey area when it comes to actually maintaining the school, according to Yekzaman.
“There [was] no consistency I think, there [was] no teamwork and I think [their previous] purpose was foggy,” Yekzaman said. “Because [they weren’t] accomplishing what we’re here for.”
His management philosophy stems from a common purpose, that they as janitors must make the school a safe and clean environment. Even though they’re not teachers, or administrators, they act as supports to better education. This purpose allows for better teamwork among custodial staff, Yekzaman says
“Teams become a better team when our purpose and goal daily is the same.” Yekzaman said.
Principal John McKinney notes that when the school is clean it looks presentable and competitive with other area high schools. McKinney said that when he takes parents and students through on tours, it’s important that the families understand that East is not only a quality education in a safe building, but also a clean one.
“With a full staff, with clear responsibilities and a manager sort of empowered to make sure everything gets done,” McKinney said. “That’s good. That’s a good thing. And hopefully you’ll start to see results from these changes if you haven’t seen them already.”