Celebrating retirement with a well-earned honor
After 25 years of service in the Lower Township Elementary School District, Cape May County Educational Support Professional of the Year Debra Falck retired in June and took a moment to look back over her career in the district while celebrating her achievements.
“My husband was a union boiler maker, and I ran a home daycare, primarily for the children of my friends and family,” Falck said. “There were a few slow years, and I wanted to find another job that would still allow me to work with children.”
Falck began by working as a substitute educational support professional in the district for a few months, working as a secretary, as part of the kitchen team, and in transportation before starting to work as a secretary in the nurse’s office.
“People got to know me, and they felt like the nurse’s office would be a good fit,” Falck said. “It was a fifth- and sixth-grade building and the youngest of my three children was in sixth grade, so it worked out perfectly.”
Falck worked as the secretary in the nurse’s office for ten years until 2005 when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. At the same time, the principal’s secretary at Sandman School was getting ready to retire.
“I needed a year-round position—the position in the nurse’s office was ten months—so I applied and won the position,” Falck said. “My husband is now cancer-free, thanks to a new treatment.”
Falck enjoyed working in the principal’s office.
“I’ve worked with great principals,” Falck said. “They’ve all been wonderful to work with. And I love interacting with the children and the staff. They’re all great people.”
Falck has been very involved in her union over the course of her career, and she used her position and knowledge to help other members.
“With my husband’s medical situation, I learned a lot about insurance, so I was usually able to help other people with their questions,” Falck said. “As a building representative, I think it was very helpful that I was in the front office. I was more available throughout the day for questions than a teacher would be. If I didn’t know the answer, I could help members figure out the answer.”
Falck’s experiences early in her career working in different departments also helped her to understand the role everyone played in the district. She brought that knowledge to help her advocate for her colleagues as a member of the association’s executive board and the negotiations committee.
“My association has fought for ESPs and has really supported them,” Falck said. “We try to have someone from every department on negotiations, so we know what they need and how to help them. I feel like I help the secretaries by being on negotiations. I know that our aides work really hard. They make minimum wage, and they deserve more. We’ve fought for paid days off, but they should really have benefits.”
Falck recalled that she worked in the district for six years before she received family medical benefits.
“Everyone needs to step up and get involved in their union,” Falck said.
Falck was surprised and honored to be named the Cape May County ESP of the Year.
“It was nice to know that other people saw what you do,” Falck said. “I just thought, what did I do that I deserve this over anyone else? How do you pick who gets this? I still have no idea but I’m very excited and happy to be recognized in this way.”
To find resources for NJEA’s ESP members, visit njea.org/esp.