Long-time Westside school secretary Karon Burch leaves behind a cheerful legacy... and a customized deskFrom Howbert to Holmes to Washington to West, Karon Burch has been a cheery face for Westside students and parents for more than 30 years.
And, lest any wonder, all those smiles have been heart-felt.
“I grew up on the Westside,” said Karon, who is retiring when the current school year ends in May. “It's not too far of a stretch to feel like it's a family. I know what parents feel like and that the kids can be apprehensive when they first come to a school. If you can make them feel welcome, that's half the battle.”
Also, she pointed out, a head secretary as she has been is the “very first person people see when they walk in.” As a result, any greeting from that person should
Karon has definitely had experience with such situations. Her final Westside job is head secretary at West Elementary. She helped open the school in fall 2009 - an offshoot of District 11's closure/rearrangement decision for Westside schools the previous spring.
Before that, she had been the secretary for 15 years at Washington Elementary. The 2009 change was an awkward time for everyone in Westside education, because Washington and Whittier were two of the schools D-11 had shuttered, with most of their old attendance areas reassigned to West Elementary.
In addition, there was a sense of urgency. The district had hardly more than the summer of 2009 to create space for the brand-new elementary inside the West Middle School building. At first the K-5 school wasn't even going to get an administration office, but then-Principal Terry Martinez insisted on it, Karon recalled. So the district's contractor framed it in, but in a multi-angled way that defied the placement of a standard rectangular desk at her assigned work station.
Luckily for her (not to mention D-11), Karon's husband Bill is a professional carpenter. On his own time, he came down to the school and customized the desk to fit in the odd space. While he was there, he also built a medicine cabinet for the front office (something the district had not thought of).
These improvements will remain as a unique legacy after Karon is gone. Definitely the desk will be hard to replace, she agreed with a laugh.
Overall, Karon has pleasant memories of her career. One skill, not obvious to all who've known her, is data processing. She had a certification for that when she was first hired by D-11, and has handled those chores at every school she's been, getting training as needed to stay up with technology.
“It's been a long way from keypunch [the way it was done 30-some years ago] to the personal computer,” she observed, then added with a chuckle, “Now everything is on 'the cloud.' But it can rain.”
Another change she's seen in schools is the increase in single-parent homes - even ones where a grandparent is the responsible adult. This has put the onus on schools to do more than just impart information, Karon believes. As an example, she spoke of kids who'll come to the office complaining of some physical injury, but what they really want is “just a hug,” she said.
Early on, she juggled work with caring for her children, Greg and Andra. She even quit her first D-11 job in 1979 so she could spend more time with them.
But in 1983, they were indirectly the reason she got back into the D-11 world. Both were attending Howbert, and Bill and Karon were co-PTO presidents. Then-Principal Joe Wallace told Karon he needed someone to cashier at lunch. Later he got her to also help out as a teacher's aide, and after that to run sixth-grade reading groups. “Next thing I knew, I was there all day,” Karon said.
Deciding she might as well make it official, she applied for formal employment with D-11. That brought her first to Sabin Junior (1983-85) and then to Holmes for the next 11 years. She even got to see her kids now and then when they were students there. “Greg would use my office as his locker,” she grinned. “He didn't like the ones the school had.”
While not complaining about the middle-school experience, Karon said she eventually came to the realization that what she really liked was the innocence of children at the elementary level and a chance to be a nurturing influence. That led her to Washington in 1994.
She speaks fondly about that school - whose buildings are now used by Buena Vista Montessori - remembering it as one of the traditional Westside neighborhood schools (considerably smaller than West Elementary).
Just before Washington closed for good in '09, Burch and other staff printed a collection of funny things they'd heard students say, titled “One Brief Shining Memorable Moment.” One favorite that she shared was from 2006, quoting a student who was actually sorry when school let out for the summer: “I wish this school went through high school,” he told her.
Retirement for Karon will be “nothing specific,” she said. She and Bill will keep on living in the Pleasant Valley home they've had since 1978, and she expects to spend more time with her grandchildren, her daughter and her mother, Jeanne Downing, who still lives in the Westside home where Karon grew up.
Westside Pioneer article