Every May, we throw a staff appreciation party for everyone who works at Southern Humboldt Unified School District.
Providing our students with a great education requires a team of dedicated, compassionate, and incredibly patient people — people willing to teach students academic lessons and life lessons, feed them, keep their school campuses safe and clean, welcome visitors, pay bills, and so much more.
We have employees willing to drive all the way from Eureka, Fortuna, and McKinleyville to work here. We have local employees who have lived in SoHum their whole lives and wouldn’t leave for anything. We live in a really special place, and our employees are really special people.
When most people think about a school district employee, they think of teachers first. Our teachers have an enormous impact on students’ lives. They manage classrooms full of students with varying skills, talents, and academic abilities. They work with students who have social and emotional challenges — family issues, health issues, and psychological issues. They keep an eye out for signs of distress, subtle cues other people might miss, to keep students safe. They do all this while adhering to strict state teaching standards.
Sometimes students suffer from mental illness or are faced with trauma they don’t know how to cope with. These are the ones who often disrupt class. Sometimes they want attention; other times they behave badly because they don’t know how to regulate their emotions. A natural reaction to this behavior is to get angry and send the kid to a disciplinary office. When we respond to their anger with anger of our own, it can reinforce their trauma. But when our teachers, administrators, counselors, and other school employees look beyond the outburst and try to understand where it’s coming from, they can completely turn a student’s life around.
I recently ran into a SoHum student who struggled so much in kindergarten that she was sent to another school district. I always really liked her, but I worried about her. I didn’t know if she’d ever be able to integrate into a regular classroom. I once found her hiding under a cafeteria table, totally overwhelmed by the chaos of school. It had been several months since I’d spoken with her, when I ran into her during one of my school visits last month. She was transformed. She engaged me in conversation, talked about some of her challenges at home in a way that made it clear she was equipped to handle them, asked me if I’d read any good books lately, and she proudly shared that she was currently getting straight A’s. People in our district didn’t give up on her. They helped her, and she is forever changed because of them.
Sometimes help can come from the most unexpected places. Our bus drivers are some of the first adults students see in the morning. Kids know they can depend on their bus driver to be there on time, every time, to pick them up and take them to a safe, supportive place. School secretaries can serve as a second mother; they’re the ones students turn to when they have no idea who to turn to. Secretaries help students navigate all kinds of situations, usually with patience and kindness, so students have no idea the secretaries have a million other things they are being asked to do at that same moment. Our food service workers do an incredible job of providing healthy, yummy food to kids all over the district on a shoestring budget. Our janitors and maintenance staff keep classrooms and campuses clean and safe. Our district office employees are the oil that keeps our district running, from distributing payroll checks to compiling reports for state and federal authorities so we continue to receive funding. Our classroom aides allow teachers to do what they do best, while making sure students who need additional attention have appropriate support. It’s up to our administrators to deal with the most difficult problems; when someone’s really angry or something goes wrong, it’s the administrator who gets involved to solve the problem. With more than a hundred employees, I could go on and on.
Please join me in thanking our employees for all they do every day. We are lucky to have them.
Catherine Scott is the superintendent of the Southern Humboldt Unified School District and can be reached at 707-943-1789.