If you only looked at Janet Fairchild’s job title at Hesperia Community Schools, you might think she spends her days issuing punishments for bad behavior. After all, she’s the Discipline Coordinator at the middle and high schools.
But she’s much more than that.
Fairchild works with students who’ve gotten into trouble, but her caring approach is what helps them turn things around. For her dedication to students and staff, Fairchild last weekend was presented with one of MEA’s highest honors for Education Support Professionals, the Leon A. Brunner Award.
“Some people say, ‘I don’t know how you do that job,’ but I love it,” Fairchild said. “It’s the highlight of my life, between that and my family. These kids mean an awful lot to me.”
Fairchild runs the Responsible Thinking Program, which requires students referred for discipline to reflect on their actions and how to change going forward. Students sent to her multiple times receive increasing consequences, such as calls to parents and meetings with parents and teachers.
But the tricky part of her job is balancing the consequences with caring.
Fairchild gets to know the kids she calls “frequent flyers,” learning about problems in their lives that present barriers to cooperation and learning – the sort of extended one-on-one conversations that busy teachers don’t always have time to stop and indulge in.
“Sometimes these kids just need somebody to listen to them,” she said.
That isn’t to say the job is easy, or that she gets through to every child. “There are days when you think, Oh my gosh; I don’t think I can do this anymore, and then something good will happen,” she said.
For example, students who spend a day in her in-house suspension room will often stop her in the hallway to celebrate a success. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, I got an A on that test you helped me study for.’”
Other times she might wait years to hear back that her work made a difference, but it’s moving to have graduates return to say thanks, I got some vocational training like you recommended, and now I have a good-paying job.
“The other day I had three high schoolers come back that graduated last year, and all three had some trouble while they were here, and when I walked in the office – great big hugs. And they said, ‘Hi, Mrs. Fairchild. We really missed you. Thank you for everything you’ve done.’”
The hardest part of her job – parents who don’t want to admit their child has done wrong – is offset by a supportive staff and administration that make it fun to come to work every day, she added.
Fairchild has worked in Hesperia schools for 23 years, including 14 in her current role. In addition to her work with the discipline program, Fairchild serves as a test reader for special education students, produces attendance and discipline reports, and assists with special events outside of school hours.
The Leon A. Brunner Award is given annually to an ESP who exemplifies outstanding commitment and significant contributions to the field.