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Secretary enjoys role at Fernwood helping students get through the day

Karen DelkerTo say that Karen Delker is a fixture of the Fernwood Montessori School community would be an understatement.

Delker attended the school from 4-year-old kindergarten through 8th grade – and she came back to the school in 1987 to work. She’s been there ever since.

Starting by spending an hour per day in the lunchroom for a month, Delker then took on additional hours as an educational assistant and eventually became a school secretary in 1995, the position she still holds today.

But to talk to the people who know and work with her, the 25-plus-year MPS veteran’s impact isn’t so much about the amount of time she has spent there – it’s about how she’s spent it.

Fellow MPS secretary Blanca Aviles tells a story about her grandson, then a young Fernwood student, who was afraid of fire drills. To help him, Delker walked the student to where the alarm was so he could watch the button being pushed. That way, he could see exactly where it was coming from.

“She took the time for him not to be afraid,” Aviles recalled.

Fernwood Principal John Sanchez says that’s the kind of personal touch Delker brings to the Fernwood community as the front desk secretary. She doesn’t just know the names of students – she knows the names of their family members.

“Any family that comes in – they’re just amazed that she remembers who they are,“ Sanchez said. “We talk about good customer service in the district and she has it.”

If an older student living in the neighborhood has to go home in the middle of the school day, Delker will ask the student to call the school to let her know the student is home safely, the principal said. Then, Delker calls the family to let them know, too.

Those types of connections make an impression on families, Sanchez noted, helping them feel more comfortable entrusting their children to the school.

Delker says she is on the receiving end of that personal connection with students and families as well.

She remembers a secretary’s day about six years ago when students made pictures for the people working in the main office. They’re still hanging up there, and students notice.

“Now they’re in 6th, 7th, 8th grade and they say, ‘I made that for you,’” Delker said. “It’s something you don’t want to take down because it makes you feel good.”

Students feel comfortable talking to Delker – or “Ms. Karen” to them – as she handles countless day-to-day tasks along with the occasional forgotten lunch or pair of gym shoes left at home by one of the school’s more than 700 students.

“There’s not a moment of downtime,” Delker said. “There’s always a phone ringing, or the door buzzer buzzing or someone coming into the office.”

But she doesn’t talk about it like a burden.

“They say you never work a day in your life if you love your job,” Delker said.

“And I do. It’s just a rewarding place. I love the kids and they keep me young.”

As for the idea of not being around them: “That’s something you don’t ever think about when you have to think about retirement and that other stuff,” she said.

“I am in no hurry.”

Photo: Karen Delker, a secretary at Fernwood Montessori School, has worked at the school since 1987. She also attended the school from 4-year-old kindergarten through 8th grade.

This story is part of a series appearing during American Education Week, November 15-21, highlighting the contributions made by alumni, community partners, school-based and secretarial staff, district support staff and families to help Milwaukee Public Schools in its mission to provide successful student outcomes.


Earl Arms, Media Relations Manager
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