‘We do everything’ | Community profile

Roger Curtis, center, is flanked by his day crew, Sang Le, on the left and Dung Si Nguyen, right. Curtis, the head custodian at Islander Middle School, has been with the Mercer Island School District since 1984. - Linda Ball/Staff Photo
Roger Curtis, center, is flanked by his day crew, Sang Le, on the left and Dung Si Nguyen, right. Curtis, the head custodian at Islander Middle School, has been with the Mercer Island School District since 1984.
— image credit: Linda Ball/Staff Photo

Where are you from? Originally from Mitchellsburg, Kentucky. I’ve been in Washington since 1976. I live in Edmonds.

How did you end up working at Islander Middle School? My neighbor in Edmonds was the former head custodian at Islander. He retired — I began as a substitute in 1984 and became the lead custodian in 1991.

How did you come to be in this line of work? I worked outside in construction, then the two years before this job I worked in Marysville at Mary Manufacturing. They made rototillers. They sold out about the same time my neighbor was leaving the job at Islander Middle School and he told me about the job. After I started, I realized what a great job it is.

What’s the difference between a custodian and a janitor? A janitor — all they do is clean. Custodians fix things, we paint, we do everything. If a door handle comes off, we fix it. A janitorial firm would call someone else to do it. And, they wouldn’t set up 150 chairs.

What would you like people to know about your job that they wouldn’t know? We do a lot of set-ups for outside groups, assemblies and concerts. The fifth grade concerts, which include about 350 kids — then when you add parents we have anywhere from 500-700 people, are held at IMS because they don’t have the room in any of the three elementary schools; they all come together to form one band. We have a Halloween carnival, Republican and Democratic caucuses, the toy swap put on by the preschool association, the preschool fair and ski swaps. We have two gyms and a big lunchroom, so we have more room than the elementary schools.

Who is messier; kid or adults? The kids are a little bit, but we have some staff who are bad. The kids here are great — they keep the halls clean.

What do you spend most of your time doing? I spend most of the time cleaning — taking garbage out and vacuuming. A lot of it (trash) is recycled; it’s about half and half.

What is the worst thing you’ve had to take care of? The worse thing is when kids get sick or have a bloody nose; then you have to get the disinfectant out.

What do you like most about your job? My friendships. The people I work with, from top to bottom — the superintendent on down. The superintendent and principal are my friends, on down to the students.

Do you like working at a school? What makes working at a middle school better or worse than somewhere else? I love the school. I’d rather stay at the school because of the kids and relationships. I like the job. I like doing the cleaning.

How many are in your crew? Two on the early shift, Sang Le and Dung Si Nguyen; and two at night, Hoanh Nguyen and Thu Cam.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not here? Going to the horse races at Emerald Downs.

Have you won anything? You win some and lose some.

How do you pick your horses? I just look them over, mostly, or bet on the jockey. If you go a lot, you can tell which jockey is hot and who isn’t.

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