RV’s unsung heroes: the custodial staff

The overlooked importance of custodians at Rancocas Valley during the COVID-19 pandemic


Shea Smith

Night foreman Luther Lewis and custodial staff member Taneisha Mathis take a break from their afternoon shift

Shea Smith, Editor in Chief

The clock strikes 2:27 p.m. and the final bell rings as all the students clock out, but the custodial night crew is just clocking in. Their rounds begin with cleaning classrooms and hallways, but today there’s a surprise in the C-wing bathroom; a gourmet meal of dried eggs on the walls and apples clogging the toilets. Eggshells line the room and toilet water is overflowing from the stalls as one lucky custodian’s work day begins.

Surprisingly, situations like these are not uncommon occurrences for a custodian like Luther Lewis, the Night Foreman at RV. Even amid a pandemic, with less than one fourth of the student population in the building for only a week or so at a time, it seems as though the workload and responsibilities of the custodial staff have been completely transformed at the hands of COVID-19. 

“It feels different because our job is… just more of the cleaning and sanitizing and trying to be aware of certain things we normally wouldn’t do on the regular,” Lewis said. “[We have to sanitize] everything that is in [every] room that gets touched by hands… It’s more, just more.”

Maintaining a healthy and safe environment for all of RV’s students and teachers has been a job fully fronted by its custodial staff, and they are doing nothing short of saving lives. Previously, tasks like wiping down door handles, desks or chairs several times a day may have seemed excessive, but at a time when the concern of cleanliness is paramount, they are arguably the most important. The burden of this increased focus on cleaning and sanitizing the building adds a lot more pressure to ensuring the job is not only done, but done well.

“It’s a full time job… It’s a 24 hour/day job. The school is like my house,” RV Facilities Manager and employee of 24 years Scott Klein said. “It [can be] overbearing… It’s a lot on your plate, but I enjoy it.” 

Working in an administrative role, Klein manages not only RV’s main campus, but also the PREP building and sports complex in Eastampton. His responsibilities widely range from managing the employment of all custodial and maintenance staff, to ordering necessary sanitization materials for all three locations and much more. And now, CDC guidelines require purchasing and operating new equipment like electrostatic solution blowers which are used to sanitize spaces after students leave them. In addition to these base responsibilities, there has also been an increased level of volatility in all of the custodial staff schedules where their hours can change with only a night of notice. Moreover, there have been no changes in benefits or salaries for any of the staff as a result of changes with their work.

However, despite virtually everything being different this year compared to last, Klein and his staff persevere and maintain their high-quality work ethics. “When I first went back to school I was beyond surprised how clean it was,” senior Alex Reilly said. “The custodians have been going into overdrive because they want to make sure it’s clean, safe [and that] you know you’re in a place that’s being cared for.” 

Although many people in the community would likely echo the same sentiments, Lewis discussed how an uninformed perception and lack of appreciation of the custodians’ work can “make [their jobs] hard,” he said. “If everybody looked at custodians as ‘We’re here to make sure everything is clean for you, to make sure you have a safe school day,’ then the mind frame would be a lot different… We would like people to understand that we’re here for all of you.”

If everybody looked at custodians as ‘We’re here to make sure everything is clean for you, to make sure you have a safe school day,’ then the mind frame would be a lot different… We would like people to understand that we’re here for all of you.

— Luther Lewis

The devotion of these two men is echoed in the work ethic and mentalities shown by the rest of their staff, regardless of any recognition. Even now, when their day-to-day operations have changed drastically to accommodate new health and safety concerns, it seems as though the maintenance staff at RV does not receive enough praise or acknowledgement for all of the difficult and important work they do daily to protect everyone else. They serve as frontline defenders of the students and staff and deserve to be regarded as such.

“The custodial staff has been working really hard,” Business Administrator Lisa Giovanelli said. “They adapt. Whatever we throw at them, they meet the challenge [and] do what’s requested of them; they work overtime [and] they’re always available.”

Despite any extra hours or stressors added to their day, the custodial staff focuses on finding joy in being able to come work and do their jobs. Klein finds a deep sense of appreciation for being able to even see other people within the building and this serves as motivation for him to ensure the highest level of maintenance and cleanliness for everyone. Even when the walls are plastered with egg yolk and ‘bobbing for apples’ takes a wrong turn, Klein states, “I’m glad [people] are back… I love the kids, that’s what we do.”