Liz McCormick Published

Teamwork Is The Foundation Says W.Va.’s 2022 School Service Worker Of The Year

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Kathy Miller is West Virginia’s 2022 School Service Personnel of the Year. Miller is the cafeteria manager and head cook at Wayne High School in Wayne County, where she’s been for more than 20 years.

During the onset of the pandemic and in the school year following, Miller went above and beyond to ensure children at her school were fed hot meals despite the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Education reporter Liz McCormick spoke with Miller by telephone to hear about her efforts — and about the important work of school cafeteria personnel.

This transcript from the original broadcast has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Listen to the extended version of the interview for more of the conversation.

Extended: Teamwork Is The Foundation Says W.Va.’s 2022 School Service Worker Of The Year

LIZ MCCORMICK: When I think of a school service worker, I often think about those people as being the glue of compassion for both the teachers and the students. Can you talk with me a little bit about that bond that we see between service workers and the school and the children they serve? Do you see yourself and your colleagues as that glue?

KATHY MILLER: Yes, I do. I’ve always said that you can’t do it by yourself, that you have to be a team player. And I always feel that you have to stay on board with your custodians. You have to stay on board with your bus drivers, your aides, your teachers, your principals. If everybody doesn’t get on board and help one another, then you’re not going to succeed. So I’ve always felt that, ‘I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.’

Down here, it’s like we’re just one big family. Everybody does everything together. And what really brought us together was when all of this pandemic started. The support that I got from my teachers, and the aides, the custodians, everybody at this school, and not only this school, but I have elementary and middle school that I helped, too. We all got on board. So it got dropped in my lap, [and they said] ‘hey, you’ve got 400 more kids that you got to provide meals for,’ and I’m like, ‘okay, I can do that, if I get their staff to help me.’ So I contacted them, I made phone call after phone call to the staff, to the parents, getting all this stuff organized. And we rode with it.

Of course, it was a lot of hours that I volunteered and didn’t get paid for, to try to get all this to work out and to help, and we never missed a beat. I mean, I couldn’t have done it without [everyone]. We all had to work together. And that’s what I’ve always told them. They’re still that way today, in the school system. If you don’t work together, then you’re not going to succeed. You all have to be on the same page, and everybody [be] willing to go that extra mile and help each other.

MCCORMICK: What kept you going every day to ensure those kids got fed?

MILLER: It was just great the way everybody pulled together and made it all happen. You know what I’m saying? And seeing those kids’ faces. And some of them, I’ve seen them [outside of school] since then. They’re like, ‘thank you, thank you for those meals. That really meant a lot,’ or ‘we really needed that.’ I mean, you don’t forget that stuff. And they don’t forget that we were there for them. You know what I’m saying? It was really good.

MCCORMICK: Is there anything that you would like people to know about how school service personnel support schools and kids? Just final thoughts of why it is you do your job and what you want people to know about what you do.

MILLER: Well, I think a lot of times, people don’t realize the hard work that goes behind being a cook. We have to cook [everything] from scratch. You gotta make this look good, and it’s got to be presentable, and that’s the way it was with the pandemic. Everybody wanted to be in a hurry and throw stuff in a bag and I said, ‘no, we don’t do it like this. We’re going to do it nice and neat, and it’s got to be presentable.’

I just feel you got to be a part of your school and your community, and you got to let [students] know that you care. I’m all about being a team player and everybody working together and everybody being on the same page. If we can’t work together, then it ain’t gonna work. You’re just fighting against each other.