EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 27, 2008

Custodian has keys to the school - and much more

By Rebecca Correa , Staff writer

SALEM - Stuart "Stu" Taylor, 43, holds the keys to the world - at least through the eyes of a child.

His key ring, hooked onto a belt loop, has the keys to the vending machines, the kitchen and even the front door to Lewis Soule Elementary School.

Taylor has worked in the Salem School District for 18 years, as one of the dozens of custodians who prove on a daily basis that being a custodian is more than just being handy with a mop.

He's cleaned graffiti, fixed broken windows and helped children who are in tears because they've lost something. He also has learned almost all of the 220 students' first names, and befriended them, as the head custodian for the Soule School.

Taylor said he didn't always know he wanted to work in the school system, but he's always been good at maintenance. His first job out of school was working with a "junk guy," picking up old refrigerators and doing yard work with another man. His next job was as a cemetery groundsman.

But when he got a job with the school in 1991, he said it was something different and enjoyable. Since then, he has worked all different shifts at three different schools, including Woodbury Middle School and Lancaster Elementary School. And he has the advantage of being familiar with some of those halls before he started work - because he's a Salem High School graduate.

He said he started his education in Salem and now he hopes to finish his career there, something Soule School Principal Anna Parrill said she'd be glad to witness.

"We definitely are the cleanest school in the district. Everyone says it when they come in, and it's because of him," she said.

What's the best part of your job that no one thinks about?

"You get to converse with the kids. They just tell me how their weekend went ... and I tell them some tricks they haven't figured out yet about school."

How do you think the students would describe you if I asked them?

"If I know them, they'd say, 'cool.'"

What about misconceptions, what is it that people might not realize about your job?

"Sometimes I don't think they realize how long it takes to get the building ready to open. This is my second home."

So, you come in during the summer, during vacations and on snow days?

"Yes, I'm here no matter what. There could be an earthquake, and I'd have to come in. And if I know we're having a storm, I'm there by 3:30 a.m. I try to get everything shoveled, sanded and done by 6 so I can come in and do my regular work."

"Regular work," what does that include?

"Cleaning rooms, sweep up dirt, take out trash, make sure paper towels and soap are stocked. Make sure the lights are working, plumbing is done, if there is any to do, make sure we have heat that works."

What is the most valuable thing a student has ever asked you to find in the trash?

A retainer. No glasses, no jewelry, just one retainer and I found it. I guess I've been lucky."

When you graduated from Salem High School, did you ever think you'd end up back here?

"Salem maybe, but not school. When I took this job, I thought maybe I'd last three years. It's 18 years later, and I'm still here and still enjoy it."

You've worked in a lot of schools. Are they all different?

"Yes, they all have their own personality."

So, you've worked at Soule the longest. What's their personality?

"They're the friendliest."

What's the worst memory from your job?

"None. Nothing."