Support staff are often the unsung heroes, fixers and makers of the Fairbanks school district, but that wasn’t the case Thursday afternoon when a staff member was named statewide Education Support Professional of the Year.
Daryl Walker, electronics maintenance mechanic with the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, was recognized by the state teacher’s union for his role in the district. Walker helps maintain electronics throughout the district: building fixtures, fire alarms, intercom, clocks, projectors and other systems.
“Anything that plugs into a wall is kind of what I work on,” he said.
Walker and other staff had gathered in the school district administrative building’s board room under the impression they were meeting for mandatory training. He was unaware at the time that he was about to be awarded the title of National Education Association Alaska Education Support Professional of the Year, when NEA-Alaska President Tim Parker came to the front of the room to speak.
“The ESP of the Year for the state of Alaska is in the room,” Parker said. “This person has done a fantastic job, is recognized by their peers throughout the state as someone who is excellent at what they do and works well with others.”
As Parker began dropping hints, mentioning a recent election, Walker realized what was happening.
“Towards the end it was kind of obvious. I’d been the only one who received a seat as a new member on NEA recently,” Walker said after the announcement.
As Parker asked if anyone knew who the recipient was, the room applauded and turned to face their co-worker. Walker said the announcement made him feel shy, but he moved to the front of the room as he was gestured to and stood beside Parker.
“Please help me welcome and celebrate the ESP of the Year, Daryl Walker,” Parker said, before handing the mic to Education Support Staff Association President Jasmine Adkins-Brown.
Walker’s name rose to the top among potential nominees, she said, especially considering his work on bargaining agreements in the last year, his and his wife’s work with the union and his ability to listen to people and sympathize.
“So, I just really appreciate his hard work within the association and I am grateful to be able to nominate him, let alone for him to receive the state award,” she said.
Superintendent Karen Gaborik was present to say a few words, noting Walker’s humbleness and his work for the district. She said the room everyone was gathered in, for example, works because of him.
“People in this building have really come to appreciate Daryl like Jasmine said,” Gaborik said. “He’s a fixture at our board meetings and he’s on many committees. He’s very much perceived by myself and everybody who works with me as a strong leader, level-headed, a really wonderful voice for ESSA and we’re just so proud to be able to help him celebrate and give him this award.”
When it came time for Walker to speak, he largely thanked other people.
“It is not just me,” Walker said. “If I am lucky enough to get this award, which I guess I am, it is not just me.”
Walker noted his mentor, Dennis Ferraro, the staff he works with and his wife for supporting him
“If I get this award it’s not Daryl’s award,” he said. “It’s not. As much as it is, it’s not, because I can only do what I do because of everyone that helps me do it, so thank you.”
This is the second of two awards to go to members of the Fairbanks school district this month. Last Friday, Amy Gallaway at West Valley High School was awarded Teacher of the Year in another surprise ceremony.
“Fairbanks is rocking it,” Gaborik said. “I don’t think it’s a mistake you guys.”
As people went to line up for cake, Gaborik said it’s amazing to have Walker recognized by the NEA.
“He was the lead spokesperson in negotiations. He just has such a great perspective,” she said.
Walker represents ESSA well, Gaborik said, adding that due to the nature of his job he works all over the district and sees the different types of employees within the organization. As things become increasingly more digital, she said, Walker becomes a “go-to guy.”
Walker, for his part, spent some time absorbing the news as people came to congratulate him.
“I’m still trying to take it in,” he said. “Like I say, I’m still not feeling deserving of it, but happy to get it, and still trying to deal with that fact.”
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal