Tag Archives: Staples High School custodial staff

Unsung Hero #154

One of the major consequences of COVID-19 is the enormous task of making our schools safe for reopening. For months the custodial and maintenance staffs at our 8 public schools have worked assiduously, doing just that.

One of the less noticed effects of the virus is that with schools closed, we don’t get a chance to see all the hard work that’s being done. Or to thank one of the key members of the staff when he leaves.

Next week, Staples High School’s head custodian Horace Lewis retires.

He would not want any fanfare. Horace is a stay-out-of-the-limelight guy. But he’s not getting away without a public acknowledgment of all he has done, and how much he has meant to the building he’s served (and loved) for so many years.

It’s a huge place. There are so many parts to it: classrooms, hallways, auditorium, a gym and fieldhouse and athletic fields, a cafeteria and 2 teaching kitchens, a library, TV studio, storage areas, boilers and HVAC systems, and who knows what else.

Well, Horace knows.

Horace Lewis, in a typical pose.

He’s spent well over a decade taking care of it all. He knows every inch of the school — probably better than anyone else, I’m sure.

He makes sure 3 shifts of staff keep all those many inches running (and gleaming). They work during the school day, during all those afternoon and evening events, and through the night when no one else is around.

When something goes wrong — and it always does — he’s the one who gets the call. Broken pipes, a bad odor, a security alarm: Horace is there.

He’s the public face of his department. If a favorite chair disappears from an office, a meeting suddenly needs a microphone, a bird flies through the hallway: Horace gets the call.

It’s a stressful job. A million things can happen in a school, and in his time as head of its staff, Horace has seen them all.

But he never stops smiling. He never stops working. He never stops serving his school, and everyone in it.

Horace Lewis (right) and shift supervisor Tom Cataudo greet the staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

In 2011, Cleaning and Maintenance Management ran a story called “The Custodian’s Secret Life.” In it, they quoted Horace: “The best part about the job is taking care of students and the school, making sure you guys are safe during the day.”

You’ve done that and much more, Horace. Thank you for all of it. Enjoy retirement.

And even if you’re a bit embarrassed by this: You’re our Unsung Hero of the Week.

Good Will Hunting: Herrera Has A Great Target

Three years ago, Will Herrera was cleaning the Staples High School guidance suite. The hard-working custodian was on his usual 3 to 11 p.m. shift.

A poster caught his eye. It advertised Norwalk Community College‘s Summer Bridge program.

Will had tried college once before. But he was young; the pressure of studying, while juggling work to pay tuition, was too much.

No one in his family had gone to college. His parents had not even finished 5th grade, in their native Colombia. But a relative’s wedding gift of 2 plane tickets to New York gave them a foothold here.

They arrived with green cards in 1985. They worked hard — in New York, Detroit, Florida and Connecticut — while constantly emphasizing to Will the importance of education.

Will Herrera, in the Staples High School library.

Will attended a magnet school in Bridgeport. He dreamed of becoming a teacher, like those who were influencing him. But he too had to work — he began cleaning YMCAs when he was 15 — and in 2013 was hired as a custodian at Bedford Middle School. He moved to Staples 3 years later.

That guidance poster for NCC marked a turning point in his life. He decided to give college another shot.

Caring admissions officers helped him through the admission and scholarship process.

Will took courses in English, math, environment, pyschology, creative writing, philosophy, computer science and public speaking. He got involved in extracurricular activities, like planting trees at Veterans Park.

All the while, he worked the 2nd custodial shift at Staples.

He considered dropping out just short of graduation, when his mother — who had battled breast cancer twice before — was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But she urged him to persevere.

This past May, Will graduated from NCC — with a 3.51 GPA, and cum laude honors.

His goal of becoming a teacher grew stronger than ever.

Will applied to Sacred Heart and Southern Connecticut State University. He was accepted to both.

Though SHU is much closer — just 2 miles from the home he bought in 2015 — he chose Southern. Its education program and resources are better suited to his needs, he says.

This semester, Will takes 4 courses, in the morning and early afternoon: Teachers, Society and Communities; Introduction to Special Education; Math for Elementary Education, and Health.

Meanwhile, he continues to work the 3 to 11 p.m. custodial shift at Staples.

Oh, yeah: He’s also a board member for the custodians’ union.

Will Herrera works at Staples — as a student observing teachers, and as a custodian on the second shift.

Part of his coursework involves classroom observation. He’s doing that at Staples — the same school where, a few hours later, he cleans classrooms.

Observing science and world language classes, he’s intrigued by how teachers handle their work: creating lesson plans, leading discussions, handling a wide variety of learning styles, and doing the thousands of other things educators do every day.

“Education is stressful,” he says. But he notes that everyone in a school — teachers, counselors, custodians — deals with stresses. There are issues of time management, collaboration, priorities — you name it.

Staples world language teacher Julia Svec has loved having Wilson observe her Spanish and Italian classes.

“I knew him from working here,” she says. “I saw how bright and enthusiastic he is, with a great personality.

“He is very aware of different learning styles. He established great rapport with the students. They really appreciate him.”

She is impressed with the way he handles his demanding job, his studies and his observations. “It takes courage and perseverance,” she notes. “He is so inspiring.”

Will’s dream is to be a secondary school Spanish teacher. An administrative or leadership position might follow, at some point.

He’ll earn his bachelor’s degree from Southern in 2021, and will have completed his student teaching.

He’ll apply then for jobs.

If there’s a position open in Westport, I know many people at Staples — in the  classroom, and on the custodial staff — will be honored to recommend him.