There are unsung heroes all around. Most people’s work may be appreciated by the individuals with whom they work or by those they directly serve, but many don’t attain hero status. Work that few else want to do, but whose function is critical for the smooth operation of society to function — these are the type of heroes that make the world go round. Our public-school support staff are among the many unsung heroes in the community who deserve the hero badge.
From bus drivers to cooks, these people truly make the delivery of education possible and quality at our schools. Like everywhere right now, labor shortages are a pressing issue, especially for the custodial and driver staff. It takes a special person to clean up after kids, after hours and during the weekend. It takes an extraordinary patient, attentive and capable person to drive a bus full of squirrely kids each morning and afternoon, and do it with warmth and care.
Each morning for over a decade, children on the Twisp River Route 4 bus were greeted with that special combination of kindness and disciplined order from driver Carla Payne, who made the bus ride a time of easy transition from home to school and back again. Carla retired from the school district in May after 12 years on the route.
Carla was the type of bus driver who knew every student by name and tried to meet their parents, to make a personal connection. She would communicate directly with parents about concerns and when she couldn’t make it up the icy hill to our neighborhood, she’d text a keystone parent who would then make sure we all knew to get the kids to the emergency stop. She always welcomed the kids with a smile and during the 2020-21 school year, her consistent food deliveries felt like a lifeline to the outside world.
Carla was the only bus driver my kids ever knew, and her departure from the route came with much emotion. When my kids got word that she was departing, there was a minor protest. A plot to boycott the bus surfaced, including irrational demands that if it wasn’t Carla, then mom was driving to school. The kids weren’t the only ones with heightened emotions on her last day. Parents, including yours truly, and Carla herself were moved to tears on May 6 as she picked up the kids one last time. She was greeted along the route with flowers, cards and tokens of appreciation from parents and kids.
When Carla wasn’t behind the wheel, she was in the school kitchen preparing and serving up meals to kids every day at the elementary school. There too, she possessed a calming nature and gentle discipline that received respect from the kids. Carla also worked at Spring Creek Ranch as a cleaner. She spent 12 years on the bus staff and 10 years in the lunchroom. She retired in May and moved out of the valley to be closer to her grandchildren.