By Martie Thompson
Cheryl Hartley, a reading paraprofessional at Crown Point Elementary, is the 2021 – 22 Duval County Public Schools’ School Related Employee of the Year. She is also a member of the Mandarin family of Hartleys, as in Hartley Road; her father was the eldest of 17 in the family. She was born and raised in Mandarin, and attended Loretto Elementary, Mandarin Middle and Mandarin High School. She and her 12 year old daughter Alexis still live in Mandarin, along with their rescue cat, Sylvestor — whom they fittingly rescued when he was a tiny kitten at the corner of Hartley Road and Old St. Augustine Road.
Q: How did you begin working at Crown Point Elementary?
A: I went back to college after my daughter was born. I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and my intent was to pursue a career in law enforcement. To get my foot in the door with JSO (Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office), I took a job as a crossing guard at Crown Point. Two weeks later, I also became a cafeteria monitor at the school in addition to a bunch of odd jobs when I was not in the cafeteria. I learned all about the school this way. After about a year and a half, a paraprofessional position opened up and I took it. I love Crown Point! I did have to resign as a crossing guard at that time, but I feel like I’m still basically pursuing my original career goal, which was to work with troubled children and be a little shining light to help get them on track. I’m still helping and motivating kids.
Q: What is your job today?
A: I’ve been a paraprofessional for about two years. Now, I am a small group leader for our Reading Mastery Program. This program helps boost reading levels and depending on the grade level, we learn sounds and blends (kindergarten) and work on literacy, fluency, and spelling words (first and second grades). I have my own classroom this year and teach about 40 kids daily in 45-minute classes. I also do cafeteria duty, parent drop-off/pick up, work in the office, and love to decorate the school. I’m a jack of all trades.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: My favorite part is seeing kids when they have an “aha” moment. When they get it, you can see it on their faces. That’s what I live for.
Q: How did you find out that you were the district’s School Related Employee of the Year?
A: We had three nominees from Crown Point and I won the school level, so I moved on to the district level. It required some extra paperwork and letters of recommendation from my principal. One thing he mentioned in his letter that I am proud of is that when we went virtual last year [due to the coronavirus pandemic], I went door to door to some of our students’ homes to make sure they had the needed laptops and supplies. When I was notified by the district that I was one of the 10 finalists for the district award, I was invited to a banquet in April. They brought all the finalists up to the front and then announced me as the district winner. I was shocked.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I’m a very hands-on mom. My daughter and I enjoy doing art projects and cooking together. I also like doing anything outdoors, like fishing and four-wheeling.
Photo courtesy Cheryl Hartley