Sparta — For Kim Pfeffer, the Sparta schools community is literally family. Her husband, Adam, is a guidance counselor, and her daughter, Samantha, who attended Sparta schools as a kid, now teaches special education.
“It’s a big family. Everybody cares about each other and I mean, you’ve known some of these people a long time, since before you had kids,” Pfeffer said of the school district. “And then your kids are here, and you get to meet them all through that, and now you get to work with them.”
Closing in on her 25th year in the district, Pfeffer has worked in every building. Her current position as guidance secretary has her helping seniors prepare for graduation and beyond.
With Pfeffer in Sparta High School’s main office are secretary Denise Sheneman and attendance secretary Kaitlin Douglass. Together, they help teachers get the resources they need, manage substituting arrangements, handle phone calls, arrange schedules, and much, much more.
“This whole thing,” Assistant Principal Aaron Romoslawski said, gesturing broadly, “wouldn’t happen without them.”
‘Catch-all problem solvers’
Sheneman, whose children also attended Sparta schools, has been working in the district for 29 years, the last four at Sparta High School. Douglass, who herself attended Sparta High School and played on the basketball team alongside Pfeffer’s daughter, has been part of the office staff team for the last five years.
Since the pandemic began, Douglass’ job has included contact tracing, a task which at times monopolized her entire day. She described her work as part nurse, part tech, part “catch-all problem solver.” Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Douglass said, “it’s hard not to stay when the people are so great.” She is finishing her teaching degree and hopes to teach in the district in the future.
For now, in addition to her work in the office, she finds time to be the sophomore class adviser and to coach both JV girls’ basketball and JV girls’ soccer — as she puts it, “Something every season!”
Engaging with Students
The best part of the job, Sheneman said, is getting to watch the students she works with grow over the years: “I love how you watch kids grow … how they mature and grow and become the individuals they’re going to be out in the world. That, to me, is the icing on the cake.”
The flip side, she said, is having to watch students she’s known for years go through hard times and face difficult situations.
Sheneman said she has developed the ability to sense when a student is having a bad day, as well as when someone’s got something good happening. “You can pick up on a kid’s mood even without them saying or doing anything, because we’ve seen it so much,” she said.
Pfeffer agreed. “That’s something that normal people wouldn’t just have,” she said.
‘We all stay here because we love it and we love kids.’-Kim Pfeffer, guidance secretary
Looking back at her own school experience, Pfeffer said, “You never went into the office, you never talked to a secretary.” At Sparta High, it’s different. Students often drop by the office to visit with staff.
“The office is just kind of fun,” Pfeffer said. And it’s true: the office staff’s desks are decorated with students’ brightly-colored drawings and motivational posters, and Douglass and Sheneman are known for their “funny Friday” joke segment during morning announcements. “They’re the worst jokes ever,” Sheneman confessed. “But we have fun doing it!”
All on the Same Team
Over her five years here, Douglass said, “My patience has grown a lot.” So have her note-taking and listening skills, she said, thanks to hours spent trying to keep track of COVID-related phone calls and messages.
The wide variety of tasks the office staff handles and additional busy-ness due to the pandemic mean that “sometimes there’s just no time to breathe,” Douglass said. “Since COVID, it’s been really busy.”
“We have to multitask a lot,” Pfeffer said. “Almost eight hours’ worth, every day!” Douglass chimed in.
But the team of secretaries don’t seem to mind, and they’re still enthusiastic about their jobs and their community. “We all stay here because we love it and we love kids,” Pfeffer said. “It’s a great job.”
“Sparta has always been great about including everybody, and everybody works as a team, it doesn’t matter what building,” Sheneman agreed. “It’s a great team, they all come together for what’s best for kids.”