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Murray Journal

Murray School District honors exemplary custodian, teacher

Aug 03, 2022 08:18PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Viewmont Elementary kitchen/custodian/groundskeeper Jean Blackbird was invited to join other Murray School District schools’ outstanding employees of the year at a luncheon, but she decided not to attend since they were short-staffed in the lunchroom.

Blackbird’s supervisor and her principal told her she needed to attend and arranged for a cafeteria worker from another school to cover her shift. While the honor was “all very nice” that’s all Blackbird thought about it. She returned to work and there, she was pulled aside by a counselor to discuss a “confidential” matter.

“I thought maybe we were having problems with a student so I can understand being confidential, but she actually talked about the improvement of students until her walkie-talkie said, ‘We need you right now,’” Blackbird said. “She said, ‘Can you come with me? I have to take care of this student, but I really want to talk to you too.’ And I remember thinking, ‘I could go do my other job,’ but she said, ‘Come on, come on.’ We walked down toward the kitchen and then I looked in (to the multipurpose room) and there’s an assembly. I remember saying, ‘I’m not going in there.’”

On hand was the student body, teachers, principal and district administrators. They gave her flowers and balloons and announced she was Murray School District’s employee of the year.

“This little boy, and he’s just a sweet little boy, comes up and is holding this huge poster card from the second grade,” Blackbird said. “It was so cute. I was on the verge of tears, so I blew kisses and gave a thumbs up to everybody. I couldn’t speak.”

With Blackbird, Longview special education teacher Katie McBride was announced as the District’s teacher of the year. The two, neither who like to be in the public’s eye, were honored at the Murray Board of Education “for professional excellence and outstanding support of the students of Murray.”

During the board meeting, highlights from parent letters were read highlighting McBride’s teaching, starting with “she has a gift.”

A couple administrators, including Longview Principal Becky Te’o shared their thoughts on the teacher who also has worked at Horizon Elementary and Riverview Junior in Murray School District.

“Katie holds students accountable to high expectations, but she supports them every step of the way in reaching those goals,” Te’o said. “She sees their hearts and makes sure they know they are each loved for who they are. Katie fiercely advocates for all kids, making us all better educators in the process.”

Students’ messages shared ranged from “She teaches us good” and “I love that Miss Katie is so kind” to “I like making TikToks with Miss Katie.” Then, they came up in person, gave her hugs and personal messages.

When Blackbird was introduced at the podium, the first thing she did was grab a tissue as she had teared up from the students hugging the teacher of the year. Viewmont student comments about Blackbird ranged from “She is nice and serves lunch really well” to “She is so funny and gets the jokes.”

Assistant Superintendent Scott Bushnell read from Blackbird’s nomination that she has been known to turn in aluminum cans for money.

“I quickly learned that she recycles the cans to offset unpaid lunch money because she never wants a student to go hungry,” he read.

Viewmont Principal Jen King told Blackbird at the Board meeting: “I can’t tell you enough how much the staff appreciates you and depends on you. You are a rock of consistency. You are so kind to the adults, to the children, to the people who come in from the community who need the support and help. You are dedicated, you are devoted, you are dependable above all. You are simply amazing.”

Blackbird has worked for the District for more than 25 years. She started working as a custodian in the evenings when her children were done. Then, she added in working in the kitchen and eventually worked her way to the kitchen manager.

“It was kind of scary in the beginning because I have never served students to this capacity. You know, many people will say, it’s just like family dinner, maybe like 10 to 15 so no big deal. I’m just glad I wasn't in charge then, so I just did what I was told and then, I started to learn,” she said.

Blackbird also added groundskeeper to her duties and adjusted her schedule to fit her family’s. Even as her kids all left the school, she remained. It’s the same elementary she attended as a child—although she recognizes the additions and modifications since that time.

Even as Blackbird stood before the Board, and when students and teachers congratulate her, she quietly thanks them.

“I don't really like the limelight,” she said. “I'm getting a little bit better, but with all those kids loving the teacher of the year, I was already tearing up there and I thought, ‘Please don't make me speak.’”

Supporting her that night was her mother and her brother, who was in town from Nebraska. Her husband and three kids weren’t there.

“I didn’t tell them; I just kind of told them afterwards,” she said. “I just do what I love, and it’s for the kids. They’re really cute and it's like I can't go to the store anywhere without someone recognizing me. I just say, ‘I just work at the school.’ But they think I’m a movie star or a rock star and they’ll bring me cute cards or notes, thanking me. That’s when I smile and feel rewarded. It’s great being appreciated and I do appreciate this recognition, but I really don’t like being in the spotlight.”