Educational leaders are only as good as the team that supports them. Without these behind-the-scenes heroes, success would be next to impossible. Thus, Lafayette School District counts itself lucky to have Jennifer Sabroe, executive assistant to the superintendent, as a key player on its team.
Sabroe, who has been named ACSA’s 2012 Confidential Employee of the Year, said she is honored and humbled at the recognition. Having held her position for 17 years, she said it is rewarding to know that her work has not gone unnoticed.
“It is heartwarming and satisfying to hear that you’re contributing to the team, that you play an important role to the operation of the district, that you matter, that your work is important, and that you are part of something greater than yourself, something that is meaningful and worthwhile,” she said.
Lafayette Superintendent Fred Brill said Sabroe is known as a dedicated employee who does whatever it takes to ensure success for staff and the students they serve.
“Jennifer Sabroe is one of those selfless individuals who works behind the scenes to provide the necessary support to the teachers and staff who work on behalf of our students,” he wrote in a nomination letter. “She does not seek out recognition or credit for her work. Rather, she is gratified in knowing that she has provided the essential resources so that the students of Lafayette are effectively served.”
Sabroe is retiring this year after 26 years in the district. Prior to her current position, she was classified personnel assistant from 1989-94, school secretary from 1986-89 and registrar/counseling secretary in the Oroville Union High School District from 1979-86.
Having worked in Lafayette for so long, Sabroe is a valuable resource to newcomers to the district. In fact, she said one of her favorite tasks is archiving, researching and retrieving information, especially information about district history.
“My superintendent says that the district stores a lot of important information and historical knowledge inside my head,” she said. “I surprise myself all the time – and it’s pretty exciting – when someone asks a question about policy or past practice in the district and that little light goes off in my head leading me to a file from 12 years ago with the information.”
Sabroe said another highlight of the job is the people with whom she works.
“I have to say my co-workers and administrators in the district office make coming to work each day a dream,” she said. “They are a friendly, smart, hard-working, fun-loving, supportive, caring group of individuals, and working with them each day is a joy and makes the difficult days tolerable.”
A small K-8 district with only one middle and four elementary schools, Lafayette is very close-knit. At every level within the district – the teachers, principals, instructional aides, district-level administrators, maintenance and grounds staff, district office staff, parents, local education foundation and school board members – people come together to ensure a high-quality learning environment.
“There is a common thread of striving to do the best,” Sabroe said. And this is a strong, supportive community that encourages open exchange of ideas, communication and problem-solving.”
Among the challenges faced by Sabroe in recent years is one that most who work in education face: dealing with budget struggles.
“Being part of a team that is struggling to protect the core instructional program for our children and keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible has been a challenge for us as a district,” Sabroe said. “The fiscal challenges that we continue to face, with the 22 percent cut in state revenue over the past five years, has meant everyone in the district office has had to share a greater part of that burden, through staff cuts and increased workloads.”
Staff reductions and increasing demands mean the job can be stressful at times, and it becomes somewhat of a balancing act. The ability to react when unexpected challenges arise is a skill that takes practice.
“In the day-to-day business there are can be a lot of moving parts, people involved, and just when you think you have it under control the unexpected happens,” Sabroe said. “These events can throw your routine out of whack. You have to be able to adjust, maintain flexibility and still keep on top of the things.”
Sabroe said she did not set out to pursue a career in education. When she took her first position as a health aide at Oroville Union High School District, she simply needed a job. But she soon realized she loved the work.
“The camaraderie, energy, constant work flow and opportunity to expand my work skills were great motivation for me to continue working as a public school employee,” she said.
Her career path took on a whole new meaning after she moved to Lafayette and took a position as department head secretary/classified personnel assistant under the assistant superintendent of business services.
“It was at this point that I started to really experience the depth of the work done at the district office,” she said. “I was fascinated by the level of detail this handful of people were charged with managing: budget development, special education services, payroll, personnel, student records, maintenance and grounds. And within a couple of years we were crossing the threshold into a whole new area – technology.
“I was excited about all that I would be able to learn. My co-workers were veterans, masters at their jobs, and great teachers. I was in the midst of the best and found myself once again in a place where there was much opportunity to learn and grow.”
Sabroe said ACSA has been an important part of her career for the professional learning opportunities it provides, such as workshops, the Leadership Summit and the Classified Educational Leaders Conference. It is also beneficial for the networking it provides.
“We are fortunate in our area to have very active charters and a region full of vitality and enthusiasm,” she said. “It is reassuring to know that the support and encouragement is there.”
Sabroe will be formally honored, together with all Administrators of the Year, during ACSA’s Leadership Summit, Nov. 8-10 in San Diego. To register, visit www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit. Access photos of the award recipient at www.flickr.com/photos/acsaevents.