Meet our 2020-21 Classified Employees of the Year

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Meet our 2020-21 Classified Employees of the Year
A group of colleagues congratulate Paul Flock for earning CSEYCongratulations to Thurgood Marshall Middle School Paraeducator Nadine Owen and Olympia School District Child Nutrition Services Supervisor Paul Flock for being named this year’s Classified School Employees of the Year. The annual award recognizes employees who consistently demonstrate outstanding work performance, professional leadership and collaboration.

Both Owen and Flock learned of their recognitions during surprise announcements accompanied by applause from their colleagues. They were also recognized at the Dec. 10 Board of Directors meeting. Owen has been a paraeducator for 22 years, five of them at Thurgood Marshall Middle School. Flock has been the supervisor in Child Nutrition Services for 31 years. Both were selected for this honor following a nomination process that included many outstanding submissions from throughout the district.

Nadine Owen: a beacon of light for struggling students
The most challenging students are among her favorites to work with, says Nadine Owen, a paraeducator at Thurgood Marshall Middle School. The same students often say that Owen is their inspiration to make better choices.

It’s a unique bond that’s formed in the Restorative Room at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, where Owen works with dozens of students each day when school is in person. Some students are sent to see Owen when they are struggling behaviorally. Many students choose to visit when they need a calm, accepting adult to help them problem-solve. A handful of students visit Owen’s classroom daily for a lunchtime dose of helpful advice and to practice self-calming techniques. During remote learning, Owen works with students independently and in small groups via Zoom.

The Restorative Room is a refuge from the stressors of middle school life. The lights are dim, the music peaceful and the conversation soothing. Owen’s work there is among the reasons she was selected for the OSD Classified School Employee of the Year award this year.

“Being in Nadine's presence is like being wrapped in a warm hug,” a colleague said in Owen’s nomination letter. “She has cultivated a safe space at school for anyone who needs a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on or some tough love. Students leave a conversation with Nadine with a sense of confidence and determination that they didn't have before. Working with Nadine has made us all better educators and more importantly, better people.”

Owen gets a little tearful when she reflects on her work at Thurgood Marshall Middle School for the past five years. Prior to that, she was a paraeducator in the Yelm School District for 17 years. There are hundreds of students whose lives she’s touched over the years. Many of those students initially thought they were meeting Owen because they were in trouble — but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“When a student enters my room looking afraid, the first thing I tell them is my room is not trouble. My room is where we are going to problem-solve together and come up with a plan to help make everything better,” Owen said. “Being a kid is all about making mistakes. The most important thing is we learn from our mistakes, we grow, we move forward and we do better next time. This is where we can make things better. We can talk about it. This is always a safe space for them and they know that when they come to see me.”

Owen said she hopes her work is making a difference in the world — that she can be the person who shows a child that they are important, capable and loved. For students who would like a symbol to remind them, Owen makes and distributes friendship bracelets to any student who asks. She recently received an email from a former student who is still wearing her bracelet a year later.

“When I tie the bracelets on my students I tell them that this is a reminder that they are loved, I believe in them, they have the ability to make good choices, and to remember to breathe when life gets tough,” Owen said. “I hope to be the person that makes them want to show up. The one that tells them that they can. That they are incredible human beings. That I care about them.”

Paul Flock: supervising school lunches across generations
In more than 30 years supervising the school lunch program in Olympia schools, Paul Flock has seen a lot of changes. But one thing has never changed — pizza is always the crowd favorite.

The pizza recipe however, along with all school menu recipes, has changed a bit over the years. Nowadays there is an emphasis on local ingredients, recipes from scratch and reduced salt and sugar. Today’s pizza is prepared using dough from a local bakery while the toppings are placed fresh and baked in individual school kitchens.

Flock has easily adapted to all sorts of changes in the school lunch program over the years. Most recently, he tackled one of the greatest challenges in his career — how to provide thousands of meals to hungry students who were learning remotely during a global pandemic. His seamless handling of the task is among the reasons that Flock was selected this year as an OSD Classified School Employee of the Year.

“Paul realized early in the COVID-19 outbreak that meals for children would be critical if school had to close,” said Jennifer Priddy, assistant superintendent of finance and capital planning. “Paul began quietly buying the supplies that the team would need in order to begin distributing sack breakfasts and lunches. He mapped out where meals would be most needed and most easily accessed. As soon as closure was announced on a Thursday evening, Paul and his team already had a plan to distribute meals at 26 sites spanning the district. They were serving grab-and-go meals, with social distancing distribution, by 11 a.m. that Monday.”

Flock has many duties in addition to coordinating meal distribution and menu planning. “What I love about my job is no day is the same,” he said. “One day I might be talking to fourth graders and getting some menu ideas and giving a lesson about nutrition. That afternoon I might be off-loading a semi on a forklift and, in between all that, I have the responsibility of making sure we are in compliance with all the USDA rules and regulations regarding our meal programs.”

Flock also mentors two OSD high school farm programs and works with local food banks to ensure any unused school food is safely distributed to reach community members most in need.

Not all of Flock’s efforts have been a huge success. He enjoys laughing about the time, many years ago, that the district received a shipment of canned salmon from the USDA. The district decided to make salmon burgers and distributed the salmon to each school along with breadcrumbs and baking instructions. No one predicted the strong odor of the baking salmon.

“The smell from these went throughout the school and nauseated students. We received several phone calls from principals,” Flock said. “That was the last time we served canned salmon in our schools.”

The salmon may have been a flop, but most school meals are well-received by students, such as Flock’s personal favorite — macaroni and cheese. “It’s always good stuff. We make it from scratch,” he said. Another favorite is the produce bar, where students can choose each day from up to 15 different fruits or vegetables.

Flock said he loves his job and thanks his colleagues for being such a pleasure to work with. “I have a great staff. We’ve been working together for years and it’s like family,” he said.