Deborah Knowles is an office assistant at Patterson High School who also serves as the BTU Building Representative for Patterson’s PSRP members. Ms. Knowles has been working in Baltimore City Public Schools for over 20 years. This includes working as an office assistant at Glenmount Elementary/Middle school as well as working in the IEP department at William S. Baer, a school for children with special needs. She has been in her current position as an office assistant at Patterson High School since August 2009.
What has your experience been like working as an office assistant during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We’ve been in the building the entire time. The only difference is now we take temperatures and wear masks. Also, there are a lot more attendance corrections because students are not in the building and many of them don’t have wi-fi or they do not come to get devices and hotspots. It’s harder to find students now but staff members are working together with home visits and phone calls to reach all students.
BTU is calling for secretaries and office assistants to be able to work from home. What are your thoughts on that?
I understand a lot of people need or want to work from home and they should be given that option. Personally, working in the building works better for me because there are records that we need and parents have forms that need to be completed; they need to pick up devices, etc. But everyone who is able to do their job from home should be allowed to do so. We have our own little pod of people that have been working together since August. We don’t need a lot of other interaction with students and staff. If the kids come back right now, we’re concerned that they’re taking multiple MTA buses and being exposed to germs. We don’t know who they’ve been around and we don’t want to be exposed to that. Also, the City never gave us the correct kind of plexiglass for our desks. They put it on the wrong part of the desk, not where we interact with anyone who comes in to talk to us.
I’ve been talking to other secretaries and some of the schools have not been touched. Patterson has been ahead of many schools. We formed committees in June, had workshops, brainstorming sessions, and every Wednesday since August a group of people come in and take out extra desks, they mark the floors six feet apart, the hand sanitizer stations are in place. Our situation is unlike a lot of the schools where absolutely nothing has done, according to the other secretaries I’ve talked to.
What are some things you would like to see go into the next PSRP contract?
The main thing I would like is for us to be able to work toward real raises, not just cost of living adjustments. Like how the teachers get AUs. We should get something like that. Since most PSRPs work longer than seven hours, how can we get paid for the time we actually work?
You have been a building rep for about 5 years now. Why is it important to you to stay involved in the union?
Because I think all the young people are going to be the answer and learn how to get everything together. The young ones in the union are the ones who are going to get things turned around and changed for the better. I’ve been very impressed with the work that you all are doing and how much effort and passion and concern you have for the students and the city. And it’s not only the young ones, but I am impressed with the new ones coming up.
You’ve been in the system for over 20 years. What keeps you motivated?
The teachers and the students. I see a lot of promise in the students and the teachers working so hard for these kids. It makes me happy when I go around town delivering hot spots, food, and art supplies to see the students and how happy they are to see us. That’s one thing that has changed since COVID.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The CEO should have done a better program of making sure the teachers and PSRPs had more shots like in the counties. Their districts set up sites and every day a different group of teachers and PSRPs got their shots.