When you walk into the Superintendent’s office on the second floor of the Knox Building in Olympia, you will likely be met with the warm, inviting smile and helpful, can-do attitude of Pam Barker, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent. Sitting at a desk outside of his office, Pam not only takes care of daily scheduling and phone calls, but she is also present at every single Olympia School Board meeting. Pam has been a vital part of the Olympia School District (OSD) for over 15 years, but at the end of 2019 she is retiring.
At first glance, it may seem that only a Thurston County native could possess Pam’s level of dedication to the students of Olympia. However, she actually grew up in Ohio and then lived in California for many years before finally settling in Olympia. While in both the Midwest and the Golden State, Pam was employed as a secretary/assistant in the corporate sector. However, after the company she worked with was sold, she decided she wanted to make a change and do something that would make a difference. “I felt like I really wanted to do something that was a little more life affirming,” Pam states. “So, I set out to work for the school district.”
She was hired as the Executive Assistant to the Superintendent, a position she had held in various ways at other companies but never in education. She’s had the same job since first being hired in the OSD in August of 2003. Pam says that there are many aspects to her work. “[My job] entails lots of things. There’s a lot of minutia in what I do day to day. My primary function is to support the Board and the Superintendent, maintain his calendar, and to help him get to the right place at the right time. I’m also responsible for getting the right information on the website for the Board meetings. Reviewing policy and procedure to keep that updated from year-to-year or month-to-month sometimes. In terms of the district office itself, the main district line comes through this office, so Darlene [another district employee] and I back each other up with that.”
All of these individual duties make up her role, one that is essential to the district and Board running smoothly.
Former OSD Board Director Mark Campeau, says that interacting with Pam is one of the things he misses most about being on the Board. “Pam was like a mother to me while I was on the Board: supportive, caring, and willing to give ‘the look’ if I was straying from the proper path,” he says.
Due to the length of time Pam has worked for the school district, she has worked with “three Superintendents and over a dozen different Board members to ensure the business of the district is taken care of,” current Board member Frank Wilson says.
Current Superintendent of the Olympia School District Patrick Murphy echoes this sentiment. “She has proven invaluable to me personally in my transition into the superintendency in Olympia,” he says. Since Pam was hired by the Olympia School District 16 years ago, she has worked with three Superintendents at the very beginning of their positions, and two of them until the end of their terms. Superintendent Murphy states that, “Pam brought her Midwestern sensibility and kindness along with a positive and supportive approach to her role. We will miss her very much.”
For many OSD positions, current district employees are hired before outside applicants are considered, however Pam’s position is exempt from this protocol. To the person who will take over her role, Pam says to “take a deep breath.” In addition, she advises that a valuable skill for any assistant to have is the ability to compartmentalize their work. “You function as a secretary, you function as an office manager, you function as a counselor, and you function in so many different areas. You really need to be able to cleanly go from one function to another,” she says.
As far as her plans for retirement, Pam wants to really focus on herself and her home. “I want to catch up with myself,” she says. She also wants to use her newfound time to catch up on sleep, reading, and crafts (especially needlework). “But the primary objective I have when I retire…is to clean my house from top to bottom. Every cupboard, every drawer, under my bed, every closet, everything needs to be sorted out. I need to throw things away and I need to donate things,” she states.
In addition, Pam has a seven-month-old white Maltese puppy named Oscar. She says, “I’m looking forward to having time to really train him. He’s very bright and I think he would do well with agility training. I’d love to make that part of our lives.”
While superintendents, Board members, and policies have changed since she was first hired, Pam has one big takeaway from the past 16 years. She reminisces, “One of my major thought patterns at this point is the privilege it’s been to work for this school district. It’s an amazing place to work…it’s warm and it’s caring.” Even at the administrative level, in the highest office in the district, “It really is all about the kids,” she states. Pam Barker came to the Olympia School District 16 years ago wanting to make a difference, and we can all agree that she has.
This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the work and contributions of public employees. It’s produced with support from WSECU.