Harris: You need to do the very best job that can be done
When Debbie Harris gets to work at Coronado Elementary School in Hobbs, it’s always dark outside and she’s likely to be the only person in the building. That’s because even though her work day officially starts at 6 a.m., she is usually there between 4:15 and 4:30 a.m.
“I can get so much done,” said Harris, the school’s custodian. “I want things to be just right when the teachers and the students get here.”
One of those things she can get done before students and teachers arrive is set out the traffic cones in the student drop off zone in front of the school.
At first glance and first sniff on entering the building, any visitor will know things are just as right as they can be made by human hands. The floors gleam, light bulbs shine behind their diffusers, dust is as close to non-existent as it can get in the desert southwest and the school smells good.
Mellony Turner, who is completing her first year as Coronado’s principal, said, “This is the cleanest school by far than any school I’ve ever been in before. It’s a pleasure to walk in the door.”
Harris said she appreciates that praise, “but I believe when you are going to work at a job, you need to do the very best job that can be done.”
That desire to do the very best job that can be done is what drives her to go to the school on Saturdays to mop the floors, put the finishing touches on the bathrooms in 12 classrooms and vacuum the carpets in the classrooms.
“But I don’t dust every day,” Harris said apologetically.
What she does do every day is help teachers do whatever they need to do.
‘If they need to move furniture, or they need new light bulbs or they need some supply I can get for them, I try to do it as soon as they ask,” Harris said.
Turner said Harris is not required to be in the lunchroom during lunch, but insists on staying through all three lunch hours.
“We do have three lunch hours,” Harris said. “And we have breakfast. I wash the tables off and sweep and mop after breakfast and every lunch hour. I like things to be clean for the kids.”
“I like things to be clean,” is almost a mantra for Harris, a native Hobbsan who started as a “floater,” substituting at different schools before being hired full time a dozen years ago. She’s had experience at every school level, but likes Coronado better than any place she’s been.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I love the people here and they like me.”
During the school year, when she is up close and personal with students and teachers, Harris cleans up the mess when a child gets sick or has a accident.
“That’s all on me,” she said. “And then in the summer, I do the deep cleaning.”
Deep cleaning a school means stripping the wax off floors in classrooms and hallways and re-waxing. It means moving all the student desks and other furniture from one side of the room to the other. It means changing out every light bulb except in the hallways.
“They think that’s too dangerous for us to do, so they send a team to do it,” Harris said. “And I paint the stripes on the parking lots. It’s hard work, but if I weren’t doing this, I would just be sitting home doing nothing. I don’t have any plans to retire.”
That’s because it’s hard to find something to do at 4:30 in the morning.