As students and other returning guests may have entered Little Mountain Elementary’s main office this week in the first days of school, many of them have seen a different face across the front counter (if they’re tall enough) or at least heard a different voice.
Yet, that person’s face and voice have been familiar for many children and families.
Cary Gindele succeeds the retired Carol Bitzer at that desk as now only the second person to take the chair and its many responsibilities since Little Mountain opened 20 years ago.
Gindele has worked 26 previous years in Monticello, all for Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE). She has been at Little Mountain all summer. “I started the day after school got out, which was June 1,” she said. “‘No kids’ was when I started.”
She has lived in the area for 30 years. She began her career with one year for a fishing tackle manufacturer, she said, and then three years in Plymouth for a confectionary candy brokerage, which is a business that mediates between candy manufacturers and wholesale distributors.
Gindele notes that her final day at the candy brokerage, Sept. 30, 1983, turned out to be the day she learned she would have her first child.
She joined a community ECFE task force in January 1985, and volunteered more when the program opened. Gindele was paid as a classroom aide for a while. “Getting paid to play with kids is always a bonus,” she said.
“I kind of progressed through the classrooms into the office, which is where my educational background is,” she added. Gindele completed a nine-month program at the former Anoka Vocational Technical Institute, “back when we could be called secretaries, and nobody minded,” she said. “I still don’t.”
Her first summer of work at Little Mountain included welcoming and registering families who are new to the school this fall. That group includes families who are new to the district, or have moved into Little Mountain’s area from the Pinewood Elementary area, or seeing a child enter elementary school for the first time after some time in a preschool program such as Monticello ECFE.
“I’ve gotten some comments from (ECFE) parents that they’re glad they will know someone here,” Gindele said from her Little Mountain desk.
A lot of her work is similar to what she handled at ECFE, such as answering phones and filling purchase orders. It is new for her, however, to be updating a school’s webpage. “I’ve learned some stuff about webpages, because I haven’t had any experience with that until now,” she said. “It seems like something new comes up every day,” she added of her job.
“I’ve gotten a really warm welcome here,” Gindele said. “Everyone here has been so nice, and so welcoming, not that I thought they’d be any other way.
“Carol left things really nice and tidy here,” she added. “She had really big shoes to fill.”
Gindele knew many of her Little Mountain colleagues before coming to the school. “As far as support staff, I think I knew everyone here, so that’s been helpful,” she said.
She also credits Sue Lanners, her counterpart at Pinewood, for being a “lifeboat” who has been open to answering questions.
As this week began, Gindele knew to continue expecting new work and issues each day, but with the added excitement of students coming through the office every hour. The first day of their return was sure to seem like the craziest. “I’ll be glad to have that all under my belt,” she said.
By Paul Rignell