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It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a Custodian!

For this school superhero, crusading for student health and safety is all in a day’s work.


By Cindy Long

“Let’s go, Stars!” shouts Barry Crocker, skipping across the gymnasium floor in a star costume while kids yell and cheer from the bleachers. As the school mascot at Nicholson Elementary School in Marietta, Georgia, Crocker’s job is to get the students—the Nicholson Stars—fired up at pep rallies. But that’s not his only job. He’s also the school’s head custodian and, many would argue, the superstar of the school.

“Safer with Barry”

Crocker, who has been a custodian at Nicholson Elementary for over 20 years, is part of the school’s leadership team, which works with the principal and vice principal to make school-wide decisions, including those impacting cleanliness and safety. Certified in CPR and First Aid and trained in numerous safety and disaster preparedness issues, Crocker is the school’s in-house safety expert and known throughout the school as the “very first responder” in the event of an emergency.

“We all know we are safer with Barry on duty,” says Nicholson teacher Judith Stephens. They know their building’s cleaner and healthier, too, which is no small feat for a school surrounded by wetlands, ancient oaks, and pine trees.

The wetlands allow students to enjoy learning about nature outdoors. It also allows them to leave muddy footprints, pine needles, and leaves on the floor. But 30 minutes later, you would never know a class tracked back in from the marsh, thanks to Crocker’s efforts.

“I have worked in five other schools, and none of them even come close to the cleanliness of Nicholson,” says Stephens. “This is because of Barry Crocker and his high standards for cleanliness and health.”

Cleaning for health, not appearance

Research shows custodians are a vital link between clean school buildings, healthy students, and productive staff. When schools are cleaned for health instead of appearance, common allergens such as mold and dust mites are minimized, making a difference to the nearly one in 13 children of school-age who have asthma, the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness.

Crocker’s cleaning regimen is strict. The floors of Nicholson are washed every week and regularly waxed and buffed. The carpets are vacuumed daily, and deep cleaned during the summer as well as winter and spring breaks. The walls in the entire school are washed from top to bottom every summer, including workrooms, storage closets, and offices, keeping dust to a minimum and helping the many staff and students who might suffer from allergies.

To help keep infectious illness to a minimum, Crocker, his staff, and the students he’s trained as lunchroom monitors clean the tables, wipe the seats, and sweep the floor every time a class leaves the school lunch room so that it’s spotless and ready for the next class.

Leading and innovating

Crocker’s cleaning practices are so effective that he’s been called on by the Cobb County School District supervisor to assist and retrain custodians in other schools.

He’s an innovator who researches and tests new cleaning products and equipment and shares his results with the entire district. He even piloted the use of environmentally safe cleaning products for the district because he feels so strongly about the cleanliness and safety of students and staff.

“No matter what your job is, every decision you make and every task you complete is in the end, related to the goal of educating our students and keeping them healthy and safe,” said Crocker while accepting the 2011 C.L.E.A.N. (Custodial Leaders for Environmental Advocacy Nationwide) Award, which recognizes custodians who demonstrate outstanding leadership in the field of school cleanliness and their contributions to public health in their schools, communities, and their profession.

Caring about the environment

Crocker’s commitment to a healthy environment extends beyond the schools walls. With help from staff and student volunteers, he heads up Nicholson’s recycling program. He also leads the annual “Great Nicholson Clean-Up,” a Saturday clean-up of school grounds where students and families volunteer as part of the Keep Cobb Beautiful project.

And because he’s concerned with the safety of students he found volunteers to help him clean rust and chipped paint from the playground equipment. Even in a time of budget cuts and belt-tightening, he’s working with the principal and school district to find a way to get it repainted.

And the community

In his spare time, Crocker is also a volunteer himself. He mentors at-risk students, helps deliver food and clothing during donation drives, and collaborates with the PTA and the Nicholson Foundation to assist with their fundraisers. And he sets up the “Star Tree” during the holidays so that needy students receive donated gifts, some of which are from Crocker himself, who the students say is the school’s brightest star.

He’s been nominated as a Classroom Superhero at NEA’s website that recognizes the shining stars who educate students and serve students in public schools.

“Mr. Crocker knows each student by name, and they look up to him as a role model of someone who does a job well and works hard,” says second grade teacher Diana Bell. “Throughout the years, Crocker has made Nicholson the special place that it is.”

Show your support for Barry's work

Want to show support for Crockers's work? Go to the Classroom Superheroes website and comment on his profile. While there you can also:


Classroom Superheroes

Classroom Superheroes
Educators come to the rescue every day. Now, they need help. Nominate an educator who deserves to be recognized. Or create your own superhero profile.