Staff Spotlight: Groh & Smolen

Cheryl Smolen

Each month the Lakewood City School District selects two staff members to be honored for outstanding service to the District. This month, the spotlight turns to Lakewood High secretary Deb Groh and Grant Elementary School preschool teacher Cheryl Smolen.

DEB GROH

Every day Lakewood High Main Office secretary and recordkeeper Deb Groh goes above and beyond to ensure that all staff and students have what they need to be successful. Deb is always the first one in the office and although her starting time is 7 am, you will often find her there even earlier, making sure that substitutes are secured for all absent staff. Ten teachers out for professional development? No problem. A last-minute emergency call off by a staff member? No problem. No matter what is thrown at her, Deb’s response is always the same, "I'll figure it out, might take some juggling, but I'll figure it out."

Deb, who joined the District in 2001 and LHS in 2008, always goes the extra mile to make sure alumni calling for transcripts needed for a job or college application receive what they need as soon as possible. These are often frantic requests due to looming deadlines and Deb receives more than 25 of these a week! A graduate may call from over 50 years ago to request an obscure student record and Deb digs like an archaeologist to find the treasured item. 

Besides her records duties, Deb also manages the mammoth LHS payroll, purchase orders, and myriad staff and administrator requests without complaint. It seems that Deb is always there for whomever may need her.

Despite working in an environment that Deb likens to a “merry-go-round spinning,” she enjoys every day and says much of that feeling is due to the “wonderful people” with whom she works.

Principal Mark Walter, Deb’s nominator, makes clear Deb’s worth to Lakewood High: “I could tell you about how I could not do this job without her. I could tell you how everyone cheered for her at the opening staff meeting. I could tell you about the long hours she puts in to make sure everything is ready for the next day. No words can truly depict how valuable she is to Lakewood High School's success.”

CHERYL SMOLEN

While preschool teacher Cheryl Smolen has only been at Grant Elementary for one school year, her impact has been significant on the school community as she works to integrate her students with special needs into the Grant Family.

When Cheryl came to Grant from spending years at Horace Mann, she noticed that the PreK class operated mostly independent of the rest of the school. She wanted to change that, primarily so her students could feel part of a community and to increase the interaction between her students and their neurotypical peers.

“I feel that if the general school population becomes comfortable around students with special needs, then when they see them out in the community, they might not be as hesitant to talk to them,” says Cheryl, who joined the District in 2002.

Cheryl reached out to her nominator, Principal Kait Turner, early on in the school year to ask that her classroom be included in the PTA holiday classroom parties and schoolwide family events planned. Principal Turner was thrilled with the suggestion and notes that parental engagement is now at an all-time high with school and PTA-sponsored events.

“Cheryl and her team of paraprofessionals and other support staff have broadened their scope to provide experiences to the students and their families that have enhanced the connection between home and school,” says Kait.

Another creative initiative Cheryl has used to boost interaction between K-5 and PreK is allowing students to use their PBIS Behavior Bucks to purchase a visit to the PreK classroom as student helpers. Cheryl says the idea has blossomed as her classroom welcomes a continual flow of visitors. “I try to make it fun for them so that the interaction is positive,” Cheryl says of her helpers.

Principal Turner could not be happier with the results of Cheryl’s efforts: “Grant Elementary School used to be a K-5 school building that housed a PreK classroom. Thanks to Cheryl, we have become not only a PreK-5 school, but a Ranger Family."

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 12:58 PM, 03.05.2019