Behind the Scenes with the Brunswick County Schools Operations Team
Most people remember the names of lead actors and directors when discussing their favorite films but often overlook the production team. The same could be said for Brunswick County Schools: we hear about the outstanding teachers and principals, but what about the people running the show from behind the scenes?
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Laura Glantz
Brunswick County’s district-wide school children could not receive an education without the Operations Division. From executing the multimillion dollar bond project to fixing leaky ceilings, the operations team keeps our local schools running 24/7.
Starting off the school day is Bobby Taylor, Director of Transportation. He coordinates bus routes over 847 square miles, which is no small feat. The county is roughly the same size as Jacksonville, the largest city in Florida.
“My two main challenges for this transportation program are a shortage of bus drivers and the stop arm violators. Motorists pass stopped school buses in Brunswick County at an average rate of 31 violations a day,” Taylor says. He hopes residents will be more careful when school is in session and take notice of the traffic laws so that students can get to school safely and on time.
And when students do arrive in homeroom, they can’t be expected to remain alert throughout the day without energy. That’s where Robert Parker, Director of Child Nutrition, steps up to the plate.
“The focus is on whole grains these days. We’ve come a long way. We have a great staff. The ladies in the cafeteria, the kids remember them. Kids get to be kids at lunch,” Parker says. With over twenty years of experience in child nutrition, he knows how important it is to get a good breakfast and lunch to stay focused.
“My son was having a hard time with geometry a while back. But when he took it after lunch, it refueled his brain in a sense, and he did much better on his work,” he adds.
Children are at higher risk for hunger in the summertime. To get students ready to learn when they return in the fall, BCS offers students wholesome lunches in summertime through a campaign funded by the USDA.
Whether children sit down for a meal in the lunchroom or start up a group project in their classroom, a duo known as the “the property brothers” make certain all facilities are up and running. Overseeing a challenging list of daily needs, Maintenance Supervisor Kem Harmon and Building Services Supervisor Larry Smith look after the logistics of a school building: from security and electric to carpentry and deliveries. And that’s just scratching the surface.
“We manage about 2.2 million square feet, inside and out,” says Harmon. “That’s about 28 technicians, and 130 support staff” to assist in daily operations. The property brothers also orchestrate the rescue missions, such as when a water main breaks or a school wing’s air conditioner is on the fritz.
“When they call, we get right on it, no matter what time of night, to make sure the school can open the next morning,” says Smith.
And where would the team be without Craig Eckert, Director of Capital Projects and Planning? Eckert manages the district’s facility planning and construction needs and has organized, with the input of community leaders, students, teachers, parents, and school leaders, the implementation of the 2016 School Bond.
Eckert’s office is covered from floor to ceiling in well-ordered maps, charts, tables, and diagrams. This is the result of hard work that began with the 2012 Facility Master Plan Study which will be executed over the next ten years in three phases, thanks to the $152 million school bond. The data from the study steers the construction of new schools or additions to existing schools.
“The needs are there. We have line items: we didn’t pull these numbers out of the air. In fact, Sue Rutledge, our executive director, pushed for the performance contracts, which makes sure each job is fair, and the company is selected based on qualifications and ability to meet the audit,” he says.
Through a performance audit, each and every dollar of the bond for construction is spent using an agreed upon bid, with a verified lender. And with new construction comes up-to-date facilities that save energy costs in the long run.
Now schools will have the needed equipment, technology, building site improvements, classroom additions and expansions, and that comes not a moment too soon. Brunswick County is the 2nd fastest growing county in North Carolina.
And thanks to the operations team, Brunswick County schools can continue to operate as a “shining example of what’s working in public education, providing a world-class education to every student who walks through those front doors.”