Northern Hills Elementary student Kyle Skrepnek watches as custodian Jake Harris pushes a broom in the cafeteria, sweeping up crumbs left behind by students eager to go outside for recess.
“He works really hard,” reflects Kyle. “He needs a break,” says the precocious third-grader.
For 17 years, the nearly 82-year old has exceeded the expectations of students and staff to keep Northern Hills in tip-top shape. Principal Michele Milner says “Mr. Jake” as he is affectionately called by staff is highly regarded for his professional and interpersonal skills.
“He takes great pride in our school home and it shows. He works with his team to create a beautiful and clean place for our children and staff to work,” said Milner. “He is willing to help however and whenever he is asked. He is a treasured member of the Northern Hills family and we love him.”
That love inspired teacher Marci McVay to nominate Jake for the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) Education Support Professional of the Year. Recently, the school staff and OEA president Alicia Priest held a celebration at the school to surprise Jake with the news that he is the winner for Oklahoma. He choked up immediately upon seeing the staff who excitedly waved streamers while “Celebrate” by the Kool & The Gang blasted over the school loudspeaker.
“I am blessed. You have really touched my heart,” said Jake. “This is a job that I love doing. It’s all I really ever wanted is to help someone daily. I look forward to being woken up by the Lord to come here and do my challenges.”
Jake says being a custodian is the only job he’s ever truly loved. He tried retiring once but didn’t care for it.
“There’s a difference in doing a job for pay and doing it for gratification. This is a joy. I get up every morning and think, ‘It’s time for work'” he remarked enthusiastically. “Regardless of what challenges come up, to be able to handle the challenges to the best of my ability makes my day.”
Quadruple bypass a few years ago forced Jake to slow down for a bit. While he was recuperating, he thought about what he was missing at Northern Hills. “It was very difficult to be away from work,” he said.
Custodial Supervisor Rusty Matlock says Jake is the best example of a leader and a team player. “He doesn’t ask his colleagues to do anything he can’t do,” said Matlock. “He leads with authority and respect.”
Jake advances to the National Education Support Professional of the Year Competition this summer.