A jewel. A team player. The heart and soul of the school. These are just a few ways colleagues describe Michelson Elementary School secretary Judy Bergantz.
Chosen as the school’s 2019 Employee Making a Difference, Bergantz was one of 18 classified school employees from Amador and Calaveras counties honored by the Calaveras County Office of Education and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) for their outstanding commitment to education.
“Judy was selected because she is amazing,” said Michelson Principal Louise Simson. “From the moment a parent and child walk into the school to register, she treats them like a new member of the family. She is helpful, friendly, gives them a tour of the school and goes above and beyond to make sure the student knows they will be safe and loved at Michelson. She never says, ‘I can’t’ for any request. If anyone needs help, Judy is the first to say she’ll try to problem-solve something and get it done.”
Simson when on to say that Bergantz treats students with deep compassion and respect.
“And she is so very adept at all of her tasks,” Simson said. “She is the best administrative partner a principal could ever ask for in running a school. She is just a treasure and is the heart and soul of Michelson.”
Exceedingly humble, Bergantz was quick to recognize the roles of others.
“I am most honored to be recognized by Louise, who is someone I hold in such high regard. Her intelligent, intentional leadership, her good humor and her genuine kindness inspire me to try my best every day,” Bergantz said. “Louise is one of the reasons I love my job and is someone I respect tremendously. We have such a great team at Michelson, serving the best community in the universe. I’m so lucky to work here.”
Hired at Michelson in the fall of 2008 – she began work the same week she and husband, Jim, moved their youngest daughter, Janie, to college and oldest, Jill, to Illinois – Bergantz jumped right in to the hustle and bustle of the school campus.
Though her official title is school secretary, one could add a handful of slashes and dashes to the role. A “Judy of all trades,” she is the school registrar, handles attendance, manages the student body accounts, acts in place of the school nurse, and the list goes on.
“A lot of my time is spent fostering relationships between the people who work at school and the people who visit the school,” Bergantz said. “As secretary, you’re not an administrator, you don’t have any authority; you just use your judgement and your discretion. I’m like a facilitator. And it’s important that you remain neutral, that you remain non-judgmental.”
Her daughter inspired her with her words on that topic.
“Janie told me a long time ago, and I never forgot this, ‘If you judge them, you can’t help them.’ That’s what she told me, and it’s true,” Bergantz said. “That’s what she tries to live by in her work as a nurse. You can’t make assumptions about people or assume you know what their life is like because you don’t, you have (any) idea. We’re in service to people, and I think that’s important to remember that that’s what we’re here for. We’re being paid by the community we serve.”
As her colleagues see it, Bergantz’s ability to “build on personal relationships” and connect with others is key to who she is.
“Judy’s impact is not just on teachers, but every single staff member on our site,” first grade teacher Michelle Wright said. “We all have experienced her generosity and love when we see the handmade Christmas gift in our mailboxes; she’s like a little elf the night before. She once made everyone an original super hero cape with fabric matching our personalities. Judy also stays connected to the staff in a personal way by hosting our book club meetings. Judy inspires us to keep educating ourselves and sharing our learning.”
Michelson Student Events Coordinator Debra Rocco, who has worked with Bergantz since her first day, calls her “a mother hen” taking care of everyone.
“Although Judy has several outstanding qualities, one that stands out the most is her empathy towards others,” Rocco said. “Judy remembers every little detail that you share and she listens with a sincere heart and ear. She follows up with how things are going and genuinely cares. She is never too busy to lend an ear or a hand, even when she is swamped.”
Known to stay at school well past the official end of the day, Bergantz displays “endless energy as she breezes through the halls” assisting with any and all needs when not at her desk.
“I know I can interrupt Judy at any time and she drops whatever she is doing to answer a question, provide information, assist with a child, or just laugh at a joke,” Wright said. “In fact, as soon as she hears the office door open, she swings around in her chair with a cheery greeting, ready to tackle whatever you’ve got.”
Though she is quick to make anyone and everyone feel welcome and valued, her heart shines even more brightly with the students.
“The kids are just the best. They’re insightful and they’re funny and they’re so smart. I learn from them every day, and they really keep your day in perspective,” Bergantz said. “The kids here are appreciative and well-mannered and good-humored. We’re so lucky. We just have such great kids, and I think that comes in large part because of where they’re from. You know, they’re grounded here.”
And while she spends her work day primarily interacting and engaging with people, she also enjoys quiet.
“When I go home, I’m happy to just be; I don’t need to surround myself with a gazillion people,” Begantz said. “I love my family, I enjoy my friends, but I don’t feel like I have to be entertained all the time. I’m real good at entertaining myself. I like to walk. I like movies. I quilt. I love to read. I love music and birds and my sweet people. I feel like every day I feel nourished by doing something, writing something, making something, or even reading something someone else has written.”
Such nourishment feeds her when she returns to work each day to serve the school community.
“Judy is the face of Michelson, and we couldn’t be prouder or better represented. She is who greets you as you walk in the door, and who waves goodbye to you when you leave,” Wright said. “We are so fortunate to have such a capable, respected member of our Michelson family.”