‘Say hello,’ Republic school custodian makes others his top priority

KOLR10 Daybreak

REPUBLIC, Mo. – When he isn’t cleaning tables or floors, chances are he’s dancing or giving kids a high-five. OzarksFirst met a school custodian at Schofield Elementary School who does more than what’s in his job description. Students, parents and staff say he’s a joy to be around.

Fourth-grader Kayleigh McClurg sees Tracey Gerald at school every so often.

“It’s really funny,” McClurg said. “When he cleans he’s mostly dancing.”

Second-grader Briar Hobbs notices how Tracey interacts with her classmates.

“He gives people high fives and fist bumps,” Hobbs said.

People refer to him at school as Mr. Tracey. His outgoing personality has made him quite popular.

“I like him really much,” McClurg said. “He makes sure our school is clean and organized and okay to go. He cleans our rooms.”

Hobbs says Tracey makes her happy.

“He is funny and he’s fun,” Hobbs said.

In his seventh year as lead custodian, Tracey says his motto still hasn’t changed: See a need, fill a need.

“I make coffee in the morning for teachers,” Tracey said. “I interact with the kids and teachers. I take care of the kids and the kids take care of us. The old saying is it takes a village, and this is the village I come to five days a week, eight hours a day, and everybody takes care of everybody.”

Tracey says he is the first person to get to Schofield every weekday morning. 

“I open up the doors for teachers,” Tracey said. “I clean any offices that need to be cleaned and check to see if anything has been missed. I wait for the kids to get here and greet them.”

Not only that, he helps guide traffic coming out of the carpool line. As he motions drivers to keep going or stop, he dances to music playing on a speaker. The songs tend to be a classic hit, from “Old Time Rock and Roll” to “Footloose.”

“We’re having a great time,” Tracey said. “It’s just a way to start off somebody’s day. A little kid having to come out and dance when they’re getting out the car. It’s fun.”

When he comes inside to start the school day, he makes it a point to talk to the kids.

“That smile in the morning or that hello that you greet the kids with or even the parents, it might be the highlight of their day,” Tracey said. “It’s just like a high-five or just greeting somebody that you’re seeing for the first time. It’s important to them not only that they’re noticed, but that somebody cares. That’s what we’re all about.”

It certainly makes a difference. Five years ago, a fifth-grader gave Tracey a note before she moved.

“She said, ‘Thank you for being there every day and morning,” Tracey said while reading the note. “It was great having someone to talk to. Tracey thank you for being a great friend. I will miss you when I’m gone. But you will always be near and dear to my heart.”

He keeps that note in his cabinet, and looks at it every so often as a reminder.

“It’s important that we know that the kids here care about somebody saying ‘good morning’ to them or ‘good afternoon’ or ‘how are you doing.’ A ‘good morning’ could mean everything to that child or even the teacher. It doesn’t matter who they are. It’s what you’re called to do, to say hello.”

Tracey says he isn’t the only custodian at Schofield Elementary who cares for students and teachers. Last year his co-worker Mr. Tim wrote a song for the school. Also, Ms. Jean made blankets for the teachers.

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