Education Spotlight: Penn finds enjoyment in work at Peaks Mill Elementary

Josh Bergeron | State Journal – Peaks Mill Elementary School custodian Josh Penn stands outside of the school Monday with a plaque he received for being named a finalist for the Kentucky Association of School Administrators’ 2018 Fred Award.

While Josh Penn works as a custodian at Peaks Mill Elementary School, he doesn’t consider it work.

Penn, who previously worked for 14 years in industrial maintenance, said he finds enjoyment in his daily tasks, particularly that he can make a positive difference in the lives of children at the school.

“It doesn’t count as a job because I like it,” said Penn, who also works in landscaping and snow removal.

For his work, Penn was recently named one of three statewide finalists for the Kentucky Association of School Administrators’ Fred Award, which recognizes non-administrative staff, students and volunteers statewide whose daily efforts are deemed extraordinary and integral to a positive learning atmosphere in their school communities. Rita Renfrow, who works for Butler County Schools, was named the statewide winner of the Fred Award last month.

Peaks Mill Elementary School Principal Dana Blankenship recalls asking Penn in June why he decided to work for the school system.

“He just has so many skills,” Blankenship said. “His answer to me was ‘because I want to make a difference with kids like you teachers.'”

Penn, who has worked at the school for about five years, has a job description that focuses on cleaning and maintaining the building, but his actions go beyond that, including talking to students in trouble. More than once, he’s pulled a student aside to go on a walk and talk about an issue.

Penn says that he has something in common with those students.

“You know, I was in trouble a lot, too,” he said. “I can help them more on the level of a friend, not like a parent.”

A man of few words, Penn, a Western Hills High School graduate, isn’t fond of public attention. When he learned about being named a finalist recently, Blankenship recalled Penn saying, “It’s pretty hard for someone to stay in the shadows around here.”

In a news release about Penn’s recognition, Blankenship said: “We are so fortunate to have Josh at Peaks Mill. He is an outstanding employee with an outstanding attitude, and he connects so well with our students, serving as a mentor and role model. Every member of our staff is aware of the important role Josh plays in our school’s culture. It’s amazing how much a single person can contribute to making our school a better place for kids to learn and grow.”

Students ask to spend time working with Penn as a reward for good behavior or other accomplishments, and, in one recent case, Blankenship recalled walking by Penn washing the school’s windows and spotting a group of kids crowded around. She captured a picture of the moment and included it in his nomination video.

But it’s more than helping students.

Last year, Blankenship picked up a teacher who needed help getting to school after it snowed. The next time it snowed, Penn cleared her driveway.

“He just cares about people and doesn’t do it to get noticed,” Blankenship said. “It’s just who he is.”

His hard work has been noticed by the top levels of the Franklin County Schools administration, too.

In a news release about Penn being named a finalist, Superintendent Mark Kopp said: “Josh exemplifies the kind of customer-oriented attitude we want in every FCS employee. It’s an attitude of finding ways to help, finding ways to get things done and finding ways to grow better in everything we do.”

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