Our Silent Superheroes

Both administrative, custodial staff work to solve staffing storage


Not all superheroes wear capes. But some of them can be identified by the cleaning supplies they carry with them. With spray bottles aimed like laser guns, floor scrubbing machines as their trusty steeds, and vacuums maneuvered like spears, custodians are among the school’s essential staff members.

But currently, our heroes are in the fight of their lives, facing off against an oppressive opponent in the form of a staffing shortage.

Over the past few years, the burden carried by custodial staff has increased exponentially, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[It has increased] twofold. During the height of the pandemic, I think [the custodial staff’s] responsibilities tripled. But even after COVID started going down, it still adds to their duties since they needed to take disinfecting surfaces into account,” Damon Sutton, district manager of Environmental and Custodial Services, said.

Currently, MN’s list of custodial staff is the smallest in the MPS district, with 11 full-time workers, though a pattern of custodial staff shortages is apparent in schools across the city, state, and nation.

“Everybody [across the city] is actively trying to recruit employees. When you look at high schools, Millard North has a shortage due to staff resignations and some other factors,” Sutton said.

While the pandemic did cause many complications with staffing, it was its effects that ultimately played a major role in MN’s current shortage of custodial staff.

“I think COVID played a part in it, but I don’t think it’s a major factor. The part that the pandemic has played in it is by throwing the economy into a tailspin. That kind of trickled down into [custodial] jobs and positions,” Sutton said.

While the custodians put in their best efforts, they also have a significant amount of work cut out for them due to the staff shortage as well as the size of the school and its student body.

“In general, our custodians empty trash, vacuum, and clean up the whiteboards of every classroom daily.  This is in addition to all the trash and vacuuming of the hallways and setting up and tearing down for events,” principal Aaron Bearinger said.

The limited custodial staff is only able to do so much in the limited amount of time available to them after everyone clears out of school.

“With Millard North being the most affected by the custodial staff shortage, it does have an impact on detailed cleaning and getting to all areas of the school. But North has done a great job because when you walk into that building, you don’t really notice it right off the bat,” Sutton said. 

However, the results of this shortage affect everyone in the school, including students and teachers. For example, the music and performing arts wing currently lacks an assigned custodian.

“Since [the multipurpose room] is a very high-use room with forensics, orchestra, show choir, and more, the floor gets pretty dirty and beat up. But I would say the biggest difficulties are for the current custodian team. They are stretched so thin and when I need something done, they are quick to respond, but it adds more work to their load,” forensics director Sabrina Denney Bull, who spends much of her day in that wing, said.

However, the impact that this shortage has on the custodial staff is much more personal. Not only does this lack of staff contribute to the custodial staff’s workload, but it also can have a severe psychological toll. 

“I think at the height of COVID, both emotional and physical stress, as well as burnout, were significant. Even last year, we had a lot of overtime due to staff members being out during COVID. I think that this has lessened, but there are still some folks still experiencing stress. North is not immune to that,” Sutton said.

District administrators have been busy brainstorming and implementing solutions to this pressing problem. For the short term, they have implemented temporary workers to supplement full-time staff.

Currently, many students are unaware of the custodial staffing situation, but teachers and staff hope that students will begin to recognize the custodians’ diligent efforts.

“As evidenced by the mess that students leave in the lunchrooms, hallways, restrooms, and classrooms, our custodians are gravely under-appreciated by some students. I would love to see more love and appreciation given to them by our students,” Beautification Club sponsor Amy Roberts said.

By taking care of their space, students can minimize the strain their actions place on the already overworked custodians. For example, Sutton believes that when students stay for long periods of time after school has ended or in the stadium after a football game, it makes custodians unable to do their job until those people leave.

“Anyone, not just students, can help out by picking up trash and throwing it away.  We can make sure we are putting trash in the proper bins and taking pride in making our school look clean,” Bearinger said.

Though the pandemic has put us through trying times, the world has come out stronger and wiser. But now, more than ever, it is time to appreciate those who make students’ learning safe and secure – our silent superheroes.