1 Getting to Know Her
“We have an issue here at the Pirate Ship. Can you help?”
The scratchy voice over the radio elicited a response instantly.
“I’ll send Jessica right away. What’s up?”
“Uh, let’s just say the slide down into the cove was a little too exciting for a three-year-old. He did what I would probably do if I had to walk the plank.”
“In the water?”
“Thankfully not. But the slide is much slipperier than it was a few minutes ago.”
“Okay. Jess will direct the clean-up. Can you take care of the kid and anyone else who might be, uh, grossed out?”
“Can do. It’s pretty calm. Just need to clean the slide.”
“Keep me posted. Thanks.”
Sunshine. Temperatures between eighty and ninety degrees. Shrieks of laughter. Blasts of hip-hop, rap, and pop music over the speakers. Splashes of water on her legs. The slight scent of chlorine. The occasional child ignoring his need to go to the bathroom until he was at the top of a water slide and it was too late. These elements filled Kassi Stanton’s days at her summer job as a greeter at the Wet Zone water park. And she drank in every element. The title Greeter was misleading though. Her real job involved keeping the teenagers who worked there on task. And despite the occasional voiding on the slide, she enjoyed the summer weather at a job where people were happy and had fun. It was a one-eighty from her real one teaching English to Bantamville’s high schoolers. Though maybe it was a three-sixty since she still supervised teens.
As she enjoyed her lunch break, Kassi read a text from her friend, Renee Dumont, who always got any school news first and shared it right away even in the summer. Now she passed along the information about their new principal, Rikki Parks. It raised questions about Parks’ doings at her previous school. Renee said she would check Google for more. Though she trusted her friend to send it her way, Kassi wanted to meet the new boss. She had been around education long enough to realize she needed to introduce herself within her first week on the job and make a first impression, good or bad.
So she planned to interrupt her vacation job, take a day off from the water park, and get a first-person view.
When she ventured into Bantamville South High School on that hot August day, the smell of bleach and chemical cleaners attacked her nose. Summer in a school building meant super cleaning and disinfecting time. Custodians jammed the hallways with everything they emptied from the classrooms: desks, books, podiums, filing cabinets, posters, supplies, and anything else not nailed down. This gave them room to scrub and wax floors, wash walls, disinfect desk surfaces, and return the rooms to their shiny, untouched state, at least for a month or two before September brought a new year’s opening, and about one thousand teenagers stampeded through the halls.
As Kassi made her way through the main hallway, she met Hank Broadbent, her favorite custodian. The one thing every education major is told in college to ensure success at school is to befriend the building’s custodian. He or she can make life heaven or hell. If you like trash cans that get emptied each night, doors that open, close, and lock, desks that aren’t graffiti-covered, file cabinets positioned strategically, and floors and fixtures free of dust, he or she held the power. Kassi did and took her professor’s advice to heart from her first day of teaching.
Some custodians, though, made warming up to them tough. She remembered Walt Torrance, the custodian during her first year, who resisted any of her attempts to be nice to him. Coffee and donuts. A friendly hello. Lottery tickets for holiday gifts. Nothing worked, and she never figured out why. She didn’t need to. He was transferred that summer.
But she got along well with Hank from the start, and from the moment of their first meeting fifteen years ago, they were friends. He just happened to clean her building. As an added perk, he had accurate inside information on district happenings, so Kassi hoped he could fill her in on Parks. He didn’t disappoint.
“Hello, stranger,” he said when he saw her coming down the hall.
“Hi, Hank. How’s it going?”
“Back from that cushy summer job of yours already?”
“For a day. I need to check on something here.”
“So what do you think about this one?” He pointed down the hallway.
“The big guy. Parks.”
Kassi smiled. She was sure he knew the principal was a female, but he still referred to Parks as the big guy. “I guess she’s okay. I don’t know. She’s new yet.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But she has quite a record.”
“Really?” Renee had filled her in on the rumors, but Kassi promised herself that she would give the new principal the benefit of the doubt before she let the rumors affect her judgment.
Hank related the tales of Parks’ past for her. She came into a school district like a gangbuster, took down almost everything that existed, and replaced it with the policies and people she wanted. Kassi thought that standard for most new administrators, but the gossip mill overflowed with stories of unfairness from Parks. In her last school, rumor said, she denied tenure to ten out of fifteen teachers. The ten did not fit her idea of what a teacher should be in the classroom or in lifestyle. Living with someone of the opposite sex without a marriage certificate doomed six of the ten. Being openly gay took down three others. Discrimination never became an issue because beginning teachers have no protection, a hidden advantage to a principal and school district that allowed them to get rid of a nontenured teacher at will.
“I’m just saying that’s one story,” Hank said after he highlighted more details of that rumor.
“Not a great one,” Kassi said. “Hank, let’s hang in there for a while and see what she does here. In fact, have you seen her today? Because I came back to meet her.”
“She’s around, yeah. Hey, good to see you. Enjoy the rest of your summer.”
“Thanks, Hank. You, too.” She watched Hank push his mop and bucket down to the next classroom for cleaning then walked around the corner and into the main office and said hello to the secretary. “Hi, Lil. How are you?”
Lilith Chiarello had been a school secretary for as long as Kassi had been teaching. She had the one quality that every principal looked for in a right-hand assistant. She knew all the secrets of the school, the teachers, the administration, and just about everything else—and kept them. Or at least knew which ones she needed to keep!
“Hey, Kassi. Surprise, surprise. What are you doing here?”
“I came back to town for a day or two and figured I’d stop in to see how things were here and maybe meet the new principal. Is she in?”
“Yes, she should be down there.” Lil pointed towards the office of her new boss. “Take a walk and see.”
Kassi stepped slowly and softly toward the door, stopped before she put her whole body in, leaned her head through the doorway, and said, “Hi. Do you have a minute?”
There before her stood Dr. Rikki Parks, newly appointed principal, dressed in an Anji Veltri baby herringbone jacket and matching pants, navy blue silk blouse, and blood-red sandals. She would find out later that they were Bolton Limited Gladiator-Strap Stacked priced at about three hundred dollars. With her perfectly coiffed black hair, she made a first impression that would stick with Kassi for quite a while.
Parks presented the polar opposite of the previous principal, Lou Hudson. Rumor had it he owned five suits, each a variation of black or navy blue. He also owned ten white shirts and ten ties: red, blue, black, gray, red and blue, red and white, red and gray, red and black, yellow, and orange. He would start the week with all his suits hung on the top, side rack of his closet. Each day after wearing a suit, he would hang it on the rack at the back of his closet so as not to repeat the outfit. At the end of the week, the suits on the back rack would be collected and either sent to the cleaners or put back on the rack for the next week to repeat the process. He wore the same color combinations each week. And from her friendship with him that went back to the days when they chased race horses at the track, Kassi knew it to be true. The details came from Lou, himself, who sometimes shared too much personal information.
She wondered about the saying “Clothes make the man.” It fit Lou. Did it apply to a woman, too?
She snapped to attention when Parks extended her hand and motioned her to sit. “I’m Kassi Stanton,” she said as she took a seat. “I’m the English/Language Arts team leader. I wanted to stop by and introduce myself and say welcome.”
“Well, thank you.” Parks stood behind her desk. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“I wish you luck in the district. I’m sure you’ll find it an interesting one after you’re here for a while.” Kassi noticed the absence of a chair behind Parks.
“Yes. Yes. I’m sure it will present challenges, too.”
“I think you’ll find capable people at all levels.” Kassi hoped to give her a positive impression of the staff.
“Yes, yes. So far, everyone’s been helpful,” Parks said. “You’re the E/LA team leader? I hope you’ll let me pick your brain soon about the duties of that position. The board has asked me...