Longtime staffers say goodbye

College students majoring in education take four years of content and teaching courses and then work in classroom settings before graduating to job search. One piece of information rarely offered in any of their academic instruction is very important, but only a few wise professors pass it along to soon-to-be teachers. The advice: Learn to appreciate the secretaries in the schools where you eventually will work. Greet them each day with a smile and a few kind words, because secretaries are as important as superintendents in keeping schools functioning efficiently.

Two longtime Northgate secretaries -- the business world, appropriately, refers to the positions as administrative assistants -- Judy Collins at Northgate High School/Middle School and Jeanne Nedwidek at Bellevue Elementary, have turned in their keys to the offices after decades of dedicated service that have helped the schools to function in top form.

Judy -- first names just seem to be more comfortable than last names for this article -- has worked in the main office for 29 years, assisting principal and athletic director Brian Kyle, while Jeanne has assisted John Primrose, principal of Bellevue Elementary School, for 19 years.

Both ladies shared similar paths to their long-time careers, Jeanne working as secretary for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 12 years before taking time off to raise her family, and Judy working as secretary to the superintendent of operations at New York State Natural Gas Corporation for eight years, before taking time off to raise her family.

Both ladies also expressed similar views as to what have been the most challenging aspects of their positions.

“The hardest part of my job has been trying to get my work done with all of the daily interruptions,” Jeanne said. “In the office, there is always a steady stream of visitors, phone calls, and students and staff needing help. On the other hand, that’s what makes my job so enjoyable and makes the day go by so fast. I love all of the interactions with students, staff and parents.”

For Judy, it has been the hectic pace of “…coordinating all sports schedules and activities, officials, transportation and venues, and getting the district lunch program ready for the beginning of the school year, then making sure on a daily basis that everything is in place for a scheduled event. Dealing with daily interruptions in the office of phone calls, visitors, students and parents needing help, makes for a very busy day. Busy is good!”

But the rewards of their work have made it all very much worth it.

Jeanne recalls how she loved seeing the students grow throughout their years at Bellevue Elementary.

“Lots of them have been here from kindergarten through sixth grade. I’ve gotten to see them come in as shy, uncertain 5-year-olds, all the way to big sixth graders reading the announcements over the intercom.”

And Judy takes with her “…the opportunity of working and meeting many staff members in the WPIAL, as well as making many acquaintances with staff, workers and parents. And last, but not least, helping and comforting students when needed.”

While both ladies recall some tough times -- 9/11 for Jeanne and the sudden passing of band director Jason Dilliot for Judy -- the enjoyable moments triumph over the tough times.

Jeanne spoke of a boy in the school who comes into the office first thing every morning to see her. “He has learned some of the routines and jumps in to help every now and again. I gave him a little gift not long ago, and his little brother asked me if his brother got the gift ‘…because he works in the office.’ Every single day a student will say or do something funny or endearing and it makes my job so much fun.”

Watching the students having fun and interacting with each other when there are scheduled pep rallies, skits, and dances has been memorable for Judy.

“Our yearly musicals give our students a time to shine,” Judy said. “We have many gifted and talented students at Northgate. Promenade is another enjoyable event, getting to see everyone dressed in their finest. Most of all, is graduation. Students work so hard for this day. It is so gratifying to see them walk down the aisle at commencement.”

And despite the sometimes hectic office days, both of the administrative assistants admit they will miss being vital members of the Northgate team.

Judy was straight to the point: “I will miss the daily interaction with students, parents, staff members, district and co-workers.”

Jeanne elaborated, shouting out the entire Bellevue staff: “I will miss being an integral part of a busy school. I will miss seeing all my friends every day. I will miss all the funny things the kids do and say. I have witnessed every day the kindness, compassion, and dedication of our outstanding staff. Our teachers demonstrate pride and enthusiasm for the important jobs they do, setting high expectations and encouraging students to reach their full potential. Our teacher assistants are patient and kind in their devotion to helping students achieve their goals. Our nurses go above and beyond in their mission to keep our students healthy and take compassionate care of them when they are sick. Our guidance counselor does a remarkable job providing services and developing programs for children in two buildings. Our custodial staff cares not only about keeping the building clean and safe, but also about making it look festive for the holidays! Our principal exhibits genuine concern and support for our staff and students. He has a warm and caring personality and strives to create a positive environment throughout the school. I will miss them all dearly. It has been a privilege to work for this wonderful school district.”

And come September, for anyone who might wonder what the former administrative assistants are doing, Judy said that “…as of now, I have no definite future plans except to enjoy the next phase of my life with my family.”

Jeanne said that “The most exciting thing I have planned is a trip to Spain, France and Italy in October!”

As for those they leave behind, Bellevue principal John Primrose said of Jeanne, “She always was able to add a gentle sense of humor and was very caring to the needs of all students. She always was polite and very welcoming to all who would come in to the school. Jeanne always went the extra mile to get the job done and to do it right. She had great attention to detail and had great pride in serving the Northgate community. Jeanne is defined by greatness and will be missed.”

Adding to his comments, teacher Sherry Knable said, "I can honestly say that Jeanne has touched each and every student that has come through Bellevue Elementary. She knows all of their names and makes the time to have conversations with them whenever they visit the office. Staff members have come to rely on Jeanne not only for the daily duties of a school secretary, but also as a friend. She is the source of many smiles in the office. We will truly miss her!"

Fond memories extend to Judy, as well.

Northgate band director Jessica Haberman recalls that Judy was one of the first persons she met when she came to the school. “She is one of the nicest and kindest persons I have ever known. She always says ‘Hello’ to anyone entering the office and is willing to help with anything anyone needs. Her presence will be tremendously missed by all students and staff.”

Speaking for his entire staff, principal Brian Kyle said, “I am honored to have worked with Mrs. Collins the last 20 years. She is the cornerstone of the district. I wish her all the best in retirement.”