Logan Elementary paraeducator Hannah Alaskar and print shop lead operator Mark Kelly were four people recently named Distinguished Classified Employees for 2019-2020 by Spokane Public Schools.
The other recipients, profiled previously in The Spokesman-Review, were Ridgeview Elementary assistant secretary Angela Hayes and Willard Elementary head custodian Dale Floyd.
Alaskar is in her fifth year at Logan, where she works in the behavior intervention classroom. Her focus is on de-escalation, helping children calm down if they are upset, anxious or having behavior issues.
“It’s a very individualized thing,” she said. “You have to know these kids. There are so many kids who have problems bigger than themselves.”
The room where Alaskar works with two other paraeducators and a teacher is there for any student who needs it, Alaskar said.
“It’s everybody,” she said. “We’re a trusted room in this school for kids of all ages. We are a well-oiled machine here.”
Alaskar said she became a paraeducator after she discovered a program in it at Spokane Falls Community College. She earned an associate degree with an emphasis on special education.
“I knew I loved working with kids who were different,” she said.
She began working at Logan right after she graduated and has loved her time there. She said she likes how the staff treats children with “deep empathy and unfailing kindness.”
“I feel very fortunate to have ended up at this place,” she said.
The work can be difficult at times, but she focuses on what she calls the “small miracles.” She’ll work with a student for weeks or months, and suddenly they will do or say something that shows they’ve learned what she’s been trying to teach them, she said.
“I just remind myself that I choose to be here, and I choose to be a force of positivity,” she said. “When you believe in the vision, it’s easy.”
The person who nominated her wrote that Alaskar “possesses a special way of helping children who are struggling by lifting their spirits with just the right words or the precise amount of support. … Hannah goes above and beyond on a daily basis to make sure her students are successful in all they do.”
Alaskar said she found out about her award at a surprise staff meeting.
“There was a cake, and it had my name on it,” she said. “I was surprised. My whole family was there. It was lovely.”
There was also a cake waiting at a surprise meeting for Mark Kelly. He works in a small office of six people and said he doesn’t see why he was singled out.
“It was a very big surprise,” he said. “But to single me out is silly. There are so many great people working here. I feel like I’m part of this group, and the group as a whole does a really good job.”
Kelly has been working for the district for 33 years. After high school he worked for Safeway, where they asked if he was interested in working in their print shop. They provided training, and he worked there for 15 years. He then worked for Washington State University for a short time but missed Spokane and came back to take the job with Spokane Public Schools.
He has seen a lot of changes since he started. Work once done in a dark room in a corner of the basement print shop is now done on computers. High-speed copiers reduced the need for staff members.
“We’re down to two presses,” he said. “When I started, we had five presses. But that’s technology. Technology has improved so much.”
The print shop does a little bit of everything, from materials needed to teach a lesson in a single classroom to printing math books for every K-5 classroom in the district. On a recent day two high-speed printers were churning out copies of the third-grade math book. The copiers run all day, every day.
“All of these books have to be tape-bound by hand,” he said.
But Kelly gives equal attention to teachers who ask him to print something for their class, even when it’s sometimes something they need the next day. “The reason for our department is to help the people in our district who do all the work,” he said. “It isn’t a good use of money to pay a teacher to stand at a copier when we can do it for them.”
Kelly likes to be able to hold the finished project, whatever it is, in his hands. “You get a real satisfaction in completing something, making something from nothing,” he said.
He said he appreciates that the district has always given the print shop the latest technology and has allowed him to attend a wide variety of training classes over the years.
“They are always ready to let to you learn more,” he said.
The person who nominated Kelly for the award wrote that he inspires his co-workers to do their best work, adding “whether the job is five pages or 50,000, Mark makes sure every piece leaving the print shop looks precisely the way it should.”
Though Kelly is 66, he has no plans to retire. There’s always something to keep him busy.
“They say we’re going to a paperless society,” he said. “Not down here.”
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