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Episode 14: Keeping Up with The Custodians

What is it like to keep schools with more than 56,000 students operating smoothly every single day? In this episode of the Supercast, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey finds out what it is like to be a school custodian by taking on some of the enormous cleaning and operating tasks himself. We also talk to student sweepers about their duties as part of the custodial team and learn how students can apply for the part-time jobs.

Audio Transcription

Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host superintendent, Anthony Godfrey. Today we find out what it's like to keep up with the custodians. We're talking about school custodians who take care of buildings that are housing more than 56,000 students. Every single day, I dive in and do some of the work myself with the help of Kevin Sprague, who is the head custodian at our brand new mountain Ridge high school in Harriman. Then we follow some sweepers around and find out how they land the jobs that in many cases seem to be a perfect fit for students. Let's start with a 7:00 AM visit to mountain Ridge high school and custodian. Kevin Sprague. Are you Kevin? I'm good. How are you, Dr. Godfrey? I'm doing all right. Uh, we're here at seven and I suspect Kevin has already been here for a while this morning.

Yes, I have. So I've been here actually, most of the weekend, I was here yesterday for about 10 hours, working with our contractors, do a, finishing up our auditorium and then come in early this morning, touch up, clean up for Sadie's dance. Do some little odds and ends. So yes, Hurley.

I have a theory that anyone who works in a high school could stand in the comments at any time, day or night, and someone would walk up and have a question or have a need. Do you feel like that's true?

Yes. And I'm glad that the district pays for our cell phones for all of our text communication emails, because it comes in all the time.

I have no doubt. This is the second school you've opened. Right? You opened the middle school as well. Yeah.

Yes. I opened up copper mountain, middle school six years ago and then thought I'd put in for the high school and here I am.

Kevin, you and I have known each other for a long time. And your family has been very involved in Jordan school district. Tell us a little bit about that.

Yeah, my dad, he retired from the Jordan school. There. She's a head custodian. Um, I have a younger brother. That's a head custodian over at sunset Ridge middle. His wife is a nutrition service manager over at West Jordan middle and then myself. I've been in the district for 28 years. Um, made a career out of it probably will still continue to work here. And it's been a great place.

We're well, we're very glad to have so many. Sprague's in Jordan school district, uh, doing the hard work that's required to keep everything up and running and I'm going to try some of that hard work today. Don't let me break anything.

Well, we'll see how you go. We're going to give you a little demonstration on our writing floor scrubbers, and we'll see how you do

Now. The writing floor scrubber, it looks kind of like at many Zamboni. It's like a Zamboni lawnmower combination. Somehow

These machines are great when it comes to cleaning the buildings and such large buildings to be able to clean every day and help keep the floors up. Okay, there we go. So here's the key switch. I still turn it on. Wait, do I need to put the breakout? I don't even need to do anything yet over here. Alright, so we've got the water already set the pad pressure already set. Now we're going to start the speed really slow. You can go kind of faster, but we're going to get going. We're going to push the green button.

Is it going to start moving as soon as he pushes them?

That's this, this right here. That'll get you going for, this is forward. This is reverse. So forward arrow.

Is it, is there water coming out of the bottom? Once you start going to water? Oh, so the water comes in once I start moving. Okay.

Make sure you steer

I'll make sure I steer, it sounds like a hovercraft. It sounds like I'm floating on air a little bit

On the squeegee down. And once we start going, they'll start walking.

Alright. Alright. Do I control the speed with the gas pedal?

You don't even need to do anything here where we've got you on the lowest speed. So as fast as you want to go on the gas pedal, you can go and then turn,

Okay. Now I'm avoiding lockers here. I'm avoiding the wall, but I think it would be kind of hard to be able to see where I'd been and make sure I lined up just right.

You have this nice little feature too.

Oh, wait. Horn. Okay. Here we go. All right. Can you customize the horn? Uh, I don't know. We'd have to check in with that. I think that's worth looking into all right. I'm going to try you here. I'm going to try you turn. Am I actually cleaning the floor? Am I just driving?

You're actually cleaning the floor right now. So the water's down. Everything's doing like, we do a normal cleaning. Like I say, this would just go a little faster. You can kind of tell once you get going, but

It's all right. Let's put the pedal to the metal. Let's see how let's blow this thing wide open. Do I have to set it differently here? Oh, it's slower. Fast. It's all or nothing. Huh? I just turned it on slow.

Now. We're going to now once you get going, let's see if we can get it back to fast.


Now go turn everything off.

Oh, wow. All right. I'm feeling a little, uh, I'm feeling a little breeze now. Oh. But I did a terrible job.

Was water. Just keep going. Now. Now that squeegee will come back down and you'll go right back over there.

Okay. Why did I leave all that water behind? I went too fast.

No, we turned it on just so you can see how fast it goes without the water down. And then, uh, it's, we're still putting water down struggling, but now you're sucking it all back up with this week.

Okay. That's good. I didn't, I did not want to make things worse than when I came. Yeah, you're good. Well, this is not an uncomfortable way to do this work. How was it done before you had a writing one that was this, the one where you kind of had to hold it?

Um, well before machines, we had to do everything with a mop, a hand mop. So over my career, we've been able to change the machines. It eventually worked to a walk behind machine, and now we went to the rider machines. So then you just turn everything off here. And then once you get off at all, raise it all up.

So it will raise up. Once I get off

Everything just kicked on everything's off. And then you would just turn the key back to

It's a, it's a complex job. And if you don't have a great person like you at the helm in your school, then it's a very difficult time. But luckily we have great custodians in our district. And we've just got more and more like you said, that you're responsible for in these buildings, because with the advanced in technology, the buildings are more complex and the maintenance, maintenance is more complex.

We have to adapt as custodians. People think that, I think the thing is, is, you know, it's always been the janitor type deal. Well, that's gone a long time ago because we adapt, you know, we're computer stuff. Now we're running this billing $80 million building and heating and air conditioning and light controls. And you know, so we've had to adapt. It's not just the cleaning aspect of anymore. It's, it's more of, you know, our districts with customer service and dealing with sport activities or, you know, things that come into our building. So we've changed. It's not just the cleaning part of anymore. We're a pretty, you know, pretty important for maintain and take ownership of the buildings. You know, even custodians are on call on the weekends, you know, if something happens custodians or who they call and to be able to, you know, keep our custodians trained. And that goes along with our, uh, our custodial director to keep us trained. And we have our trainings too. It's not just, Hey, go in clean and mop and empty some trash cans. There's a lot more to it.

Well, and every building has its own needs and you have to get to know that particular building and the things that have been installed over the years. And, uh, what we really rely on our custodians just to keep things up and running, because if the things you're doing don't work, then nobody can do anything in the building.

Correct. Yeah. You know, and you know, even my principal, mr. [inaudible] was telling me the other day, he says, you know, there's, there's important people in the building, which is everybody, but he says, you know, when it comes down to it, your custodian, your head secretary, they kind of keep things going every day and keep it managed. And, you know, even when, you know, in the summertime and that sort of stuff, when schools are closed down, you know, the custodians are in here cleaning, getting it ready for the school year to start for those three months when it's downtime. And it, it takes that time to keep it running and keep things looking good and maintained for the year.

You know, I know you get called out in the middle of the night or during the day on the weekend. What are some of the crazy calls that you've received over the years?

Uh, well, you know, you hate to say it, but some of this stuff is mostly vandalism and it's a shame that, you know, we get those calls to where someone's either spray painted or didn't like the school and a rival school comes in. Um, you know, we had two funny things here and it was over fall recess, which is kind of funny and people don't, you know, you really don't hear these as custodians. So you think, Oh, as we go back just to cleaning is we had a Falcon get into our band room when they were changing some doors out and we had to call animal control and help them get nets in there. And it took two days to finally catch the Falcon out of the band room.

So there were plenty of places for a Falcon to hide here.

Yes. Yeah. And he hung out there in the band room for two days before we were actually able to catch him. So, you know, you hear those little things and you're always helping that, or even the other day with the administration going out and help them catch a chicken in the parking lot and you know, that sort of stuff. So it's not just, I mean, there's a lot of other things.

Was that a little bit like Rocky too, out there with Mike [inaudible] chasing the chicken.

Yeah. It was pretty interesting. There was about six of us that finally caught it, but, uh,

Who caught it? I want to know who caught it

Birth home or our vice principal actually was able to put his foot on it finally and catch it. And then we brought it in and

Put it in a box, but that doesn't surprise me. He does have the eye of the tiger. You can tell when you walk by, stay with us, we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we go sweeping or something like that. With students sweepers at mountain Ridge high school. Do you want to know what's going on in Jordan school district? Maybe see your child or a friend featured in a school story. Check out our or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at Jordan district. Let's connect today. We're back talking to sweepers students who are a part of the custodial team here at mountain Ridge high school. Hi, what's your name? I'm Kaitlin. Doopy and Kaitlyn. You're a sweeper here at mountain red. Yeah.

I'm cleaning the windows on the doors and then I'm going to wipe them off

Face print there in the window.

Nose, mouth cheek.

Can you tell if it's male or female? It's probably not.

I can't, but it's probably a guy. That's usually what it is. It's usually a guy trying to get his friend's attention.

Oh, look at that. He needs to exfoliate. Yeah. It's kind of definitely tell it's. It is really a face print. It's like a fingerprint. It's got all kinds of wrinkles in it. What percentage of classroom windows would you say have face prints from day to day?

Probably like 25%.

Like one other free form as face. Oh, well it is high school. Okay.

That might be a nose or something.

Yeah. That looks like a nose. All right. Wow. I do not see the attraction of doing that. It's kind of weird. I don't get it either. I guess I've lost touch with the simple pleasures of being in high school.

Oh. Almost like someone put a sticker like right there and then peel it up.

So that's probably so really there's a, there's an amount of, there's a story behind every smudge.

Yes. That's what it is. Try to figure out the story. Sometimes you make my own up.

See, now that's a girl who knows how to pass the time. Well done, Caitlyn. And what is your specific responsibility?

Um, I clean the main level science room, so I do garbages and the floors and gum scraping and everything. How do you get gum off? A lot of elbow grease. You just keep going until it's gone. It's everywhere though. Have you ever seen the movie elf? Yes. It's like that.

Yeah. It is like that sometimes. Yeah. Have you ever chewed it before? No, that's disgusting. Okay. So it's not like that to that degree. Can you tell which teacher's room is dirtier than another teacher's room? Is it consistent? Yeah. Okay. I'm not going to ask for names, but you can definitely tell a difference, huh? Oh yeah, definitely. Okay. Alright. Fair enough. So generally, do you feel like kids are taking good care of the building?

Uh, I think they try.

I think it's things happen though, right? Yeah. So how did you get the job as a sweep?

Uh, I came in and talked to Corey. I worked at Herrmann before, so I already had everything on certified and ready. And he had me started the next day.

Yeah. Herrmann to me feels like a brand new school, but it's been around for 10 years. Is there a difference working here versus working at Herrmann?

Uh, yeah, a little bit. It's definitely nicer and newer and I don't know. I like it better.

Thank you very much. Thanks for your workout. Yeah, sure. Tell me, what's your name? Mackay Mortenson Mackay. And you're a sweeper here at mountain Ridge high school? Yes, sir. And what do you like about being a sweeper? Um, the hours are excellent and I know my schedule clear out to the end of the school year. That's true. I remember working a part time job and always having to check and see what the assistant manager assigned me. Um, it's kind of nice to have some, uh, predictability. Exactly. That's exactly what it is. And it's not that many hours, just two hours right after school. And so it fits in great with extracurricular activities and all kinds of stuff. And you only work on school days, is that right? Yes. Have you done, how long have you done this? Um, I'm coming up on two years now.

Where were you before Fort Harmon? Middle school. And how's the middle school? Different from the high school? Um, in high schools, the sweeper just don't have to clean bathrooms, which is much better. Oh, I didn't know that now my son was a middle school sweeper and he was assigned the bathrooms when he was brand new. And, um, I guess the new guy always gets the bathrooms. He liked doing the bathrooms so much that he just held onto that job and he did it for four straight years. But you did not like that part of it now. It's not my favorite it's it requires a lot of detail orientation, just like every other aspect of everything. But people notice if there's something up with the bathrooms. I that's true. They do notice quickly. So what responsibilities do you have here at mountain Ridge? Um, I cleaned the library, um, and you know, I just help out and do what I need to do to clean, make sure everything's disinfected and vacuumed every single day.

So the library is your main responsibility, the library, and a few other classrooms, the library, and a couple of other classrooms. Okay. And then just whatever's needed along the way? Yes. And is this something that you might continue with or you, well first, let me ask you this. Are you in high school? Yes. Here at mountain Ridge. And so when you graduate, is this something you might consider continuing with? You know, I think it definitely might be a good option to help get me through college and get me through schooling. It's um, the district does a really good job taking care of their employees and, you know, I feel like it would be an excellent way for me to make a little bit of money. So how did you go about getting a job as a sweeper? You just got to speak with the head custodian at the school you'd like to work with and, um, he'll send you to sweeper training.

That's two hour class where you learn everything you need to know, and then you come in and you work. Okay, great. Thanks for talking with me. Thanks for doing a great job out there. All right. Thank you very much. What's your name? I'm Jonathan. And you're a sweeper here at mountain Ridge? Yes. How did you get that job? Uh, I found about, uh, I found out about it online and then my dad told me to, I'm going to have to work with him. And I said, no. So I decided to take initiative and come get this job. What does your dad do? He, uh, owns a concrete business. So you, you decided concrete was not for you now. I've done it with him before and I don't like it. What do you like about being a sweeper? Uh, I was a pretty flexible and it's just something to help him get away from home and stuff.

What makes mr. Sprague the best boss in the world? Uh, I guess he's not like that harsh or anything. He's a cool cat. I know I'm well. Um, so, um, you were running out of here when I stopped you to interview you. Um, do you try to crank through as fast as you can? Uh, not always. I usually try to do my best and get what I can done. What are your responsibilities? Uh, I take out the trash. I clean up the classroom. I usually, uh, wipe tables off from marks and stuff. Clean windows, not too bad. Or people, uh, treating the building with respect. Do you think overall, or have you had some problems that way? Uh, like my biggest problem is just, there's a bunch of messes on the floor in some classrooms, people eating and then like dumping stuff on the floor and paper everywhere and not cleaning up. Well, thanks for doing this work. I think it's a great job. We're going to take a quick break and then have one more look inside the life of a school custodian. Come on back.

Hey, you okay? Uh, yeah. I just have a lot of stuff going on in my head. You need to talk, dude, stop hiding behind the happy face. Talk with no filter. Get the safe.

Yeah, download it now available on the app

App store, Google play or safe.

Okay. We're upstairs now. What do you call this room?

So this is our mechanical room. This has about nine air handler units in here that does the heating and air conditioning for the biggest part of our building, the gymnasium area, the fitness rooms, the dance rooms. So each one of these units here does a certain part of the building for the heating and air condition.

So how frequently do you change the filters up here?

Yeah. So about three to four times a year, we changed the filters throughout the building. Sometimes it depends out in these areas with the construction that gets a little bit dustier. So you may have to do them a little more frequent, but generally three to four times a year, we're going to go in, this is one of our air handler units and make sure

It looks like I'm going to walk into a cryogenic tank here.

Yeah. So here, we've got a hole there, six big fans and motors that run. And then on the backside of over here, we'd have a filter. So you can kind of see the different stages that it goes from the outside and then goes into the building. So riding here.

Oh yeah. I can feel the air flow.

Yep. So we've got a whole panel of filters. Yep. You're right in stepping right into this machine.

It's a room that can almost stand all the way up. I can, you can stand up in and uh, it's like a huge walking closet, like wow. Okay. Yeah.

Yeah. So we have this whole bank of filters and what we do is we take these out and then you can kind of see how the dust, something in here. There's little feathers come in and then you change these out. So these are throw away. So these are getting, we just put in a big order. They're getting, does it start out as white? Yes, they start.

So they're pretty clear. They're pleaded just like a, kind of a filter at home, but there are like 16 of them along the wall here. And uh, Oh yeah, you do see feathers and stuff. That is, it pulls in, but this is all starting to look gray. How long have these been in?

This has probably been in, uh, since about July. So these are on their cycle to be changed. But like I say, you can see the, the air and the fans coming in so that it blocks all the dust and stuff, going back into the building before. So we don't get all the dust particles,

Steven on a dirty air day. Do you feel like we're in good shape inside?

Yeah. Our filtration system. The thing is, is like we were saying, you saw the different thicknesses of filters. So our, a heating air conditioning apartment in our energy department did a lot of research on specific filters to get the best air quality in the building. So they went to the thicker, it was a Merv eight, so that you get the thicker and it lasts that timeframe. And then depending like you say that the construction or air outside, you may have to change a little more frequent for dust, but no, our air quality in our facilities are awesome. Our guys do a great job at doing that research and our energy department to keep that outside air flow mixture is, yeah, it does a great job

Is summer one of the busier times for you in a way.

So yeah, summer, uh, you know, it's people think, Oh, you know, what do you do during the summers custodian? The kids are gone. Building's empty, you know, Hey, do you get a break too? Well, no, we don't. We're here. Like you say, 12 months we go back through, it gives us a time to shampoo carpets, clean and scrub, relax the floors. We're still maintaining the grounds out there and do something to make sure those sprinklers are working. The grass stays green. Um, you know, everybody kind of, here's another little thing, you know, we have what, 2,600 lockers here. Well, that combo has to be changed somehow. It just doesn't stay on that way for riders. Right. So we actually have to go around, put a key in and rotate that combo to the next one. So it's all ready to go. So people, kids, students can't come in next year and say, Oh, I can go try the combo. It's a different combo.

What are some of the things that people may misunderstand about the work you do as a custodian that, uh, maybe some, some misunderstandings,

Well, um, you know, I think we're here also to make the education better for our students and all that come in. So I think the stat, like you say, the, the big stereotype is, Oh, the mean January, you know, we're, we're, we're awesome people too. We love working with the kids. Um, you know, I, one thing that I did at my middle school is, you know, at Christmas time I dress up into my Santa Claus costume and give candy canes out to the students. So we want to be a part of the kids. We don't want to be just off to the side, you know, we're here, there for them and this is their building. And we want to make the best, best day that they can have as they come in. So, uh, I think that's the thing is they just think we're not, we're not part of the education part of it, but we are, and we can play an important role in making that day to day activities, work and success.

Well, in my experience, custodians have always been an important part of what goes on at the school in every way. And, uh, every adult has a chance to connect to kids in a unique way, and everyone connects with someone and we need everybody's help. And I think custodians do a particularly good job of connecting to kids because you're out in the building, you're out and around and they see you every day.

Yeah, that's true. And you know what? It was just like a last Saturday night I came and we had our Sadie's Hawkins dance and, you know, to see some of the students, they come up and high five-year, you know, they know who you are. They know you're part of the building. And to be able to have that, or even one time I went into a checker auto parts and I was checking out and, you know, the guy that was helping me, he said, Hey, mr. Sprague, and he'd remembered me from elementary school from the impact I had. And, you know, that's what it is. It's, that's what you want. You want them to remember you for the positive things. Um, you know, we, we all know there's not always the best of times with students in that, but you know what, you're here and there, it's almost like a family, you know, you get to know the kids as they come in and then they respect you or you work with Omer. Hey, you know, you're just important. So we appreciate that. And we are, you know,

Part thanks for everything that you do here and that you've done it, every school where you've worked and for the positive impact you've had, wherever you go on students on employees and just making it feel good to be at the school where you're working.

Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And I say, you know, I've done it for a long time and it's been a great place to work. And my family has found it a great place to work. And I actually have a senior that wants to go

Special ed. So it's, it's great to be a part of the district. So if you're thinking about working for Jordan school district, come to mountain Ridge, talk to Kevin Sprague, he'll give you the low down. Well, thank you very much for being with us. Thanks a ton to Kevin Sprague for taking time out of a very busy schedule. You can hear in the background, they're hard at work here at mountain Ridge every second of the day, keeping things up and running. Just remember education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see out there


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