Meet Ocean County ESP of the Year Lori Paton
After college, Lori Paton was juggling her own career with her role as the wife of a U.S. Coast Guard servicemember, a challenge complicated by life as a military family.
“I’ve been a military girlfriend, wife and mother for more than 40 years,” Paton said. “I have a degree in business administration with a minor in law. I was following my husband around while he was pursuing his career in the military, and then we had our children.
Paton was working in retail management, and had successfully climbed the corporate ladder, but the hours were extremely demanding and challenging, taking her away on nights, holidays and weekends. A neighbor told her there was an opening at the school district that was five minutes from her house, so she pursued it.
“My hope was that this would help us reclaim our family life, which was very important to me,” Paton said
Twenty-one years ago, Paton was hired as a shared secretary, splitting her time between the Transportation and Athletics offices. She learned the ins and outs of both positions, information that was invaluable when her job was later split again, and she continued as the administrative assistant for the Athletic office at Central Regional School District.
“Our Athletic Office is responsible for both high school and middle school sports—grades 7-12,” Paton said. “We take care of every season of sports, for every grade level.
Paton assists the athletic director in scheduling the sports events for the entire district. She handles the scheduling of busing and officials, types certificates for every child in the sports programs offered each season, as well as banquet planning and tournament entries. In addition, Central Regional is one of the few districts that still conducts sports physical exams for students, facilitating for more than 500 children over a two-day period.
Along with balancing these responsibilities, Paton is also the facility use coordinator for the school district. She coordinates the use of the high school and middle school buildings and grounds for the administration and staff as well as the community.
“This is a very logistics-based position,” Paton said. “I really like that because I’m a numbers person. This is a unique position. You have to keep track of the changes that occur—weather-related and, during the last few years, COVID-related.”
During the 2020-21 school year, the sports season schedule had to scrapped and redone three times.
“If you’re not on point with everything, you’re going to end up with a team standing there without a bus or a team standing there without an official,” Paton said.
Paton has developed excellent working relationships with the athletic office staff in the conference in which Central Regional competes—an irony considering that even though they maintain a close relationship, they also foster a healthy rivalry.
“Athletics never sleeps,” Paton pointed out. “You’re closing out one season and starting another, but there’s no reprieve with athletics. There’s never a downtime, and we’re never bored!”
In high school and college, Paton played field hockey and tried crew. She encourages students to get involved in school activities—any activities—to help them build connections and find their community.
“Their education is the most important thing,” Paton said. “But sports and activities can keep students motivated about coming to school. It can boost their attendance and help improve their academics.”
The number of activities now available to students is impressive.
“I love athletics, and I’m excited about all the programs we have and how we’ve built it up,” Paton said. “In the winter, a student can bowl, swim, there’s so many things. If you have a child who doesn’t want to play basketball, they have lots of other options. Tennis and golf are sports they can take into their later years. Not every child needs to play a sport. They might love to sing or dance or join a club. It’s one of the few times in your life when you’re with that many people your age on a daily basis.”
Paton and her husband, Jim, who is now retired from the U.S. Coast Guard, have two children. Their daughter, Jamie, has a master’s degree in media studies and son, Daniel, is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps who graduated from the United States Naval Academy. Paton has been a resource for students interested in pursuing their education at one of the military academies.
At the same time, Paton has been very involved in her union. She has been on the negotiations team for five contracts, is a strong advocate on health benefits issues, and has served as the association’s social chair.
“I really feel it’s important for members to understand that all the things they enjoy every day—from the number of minutes they work to their sick time to duty-free lunch time to personal days—these are not a gift from the district. It’s all because of years and years of negotiating. The quality of your health care, prescription benefits, these are things that you don’t have to think about until something happens. But throughout the life of the school district, these things have been negotiated. And every time you negotiate, there’s something new, good, and positive that the membership gets to benefit from. I think sometimes people don’t give any thought to it. They accept what it is, but they need to understand the background.”
Paton is honored to be the 2022 Ocean County ESP of the Year.
“Support personnel are the engine that runs the education train,” Paton said. “Teachers are the conductors. We work together to make things the best they can be for our students. I’m extremely appreciative and honored to be the Ocean County ESP of the Year, especially because we all work so hard to contribute to the well-being of our students each and every day.”
The Educational Support Professionals Advocacy Network (ESPAN) collaborates to develop strategies and initiatives to protect ESP members’ rights, benefits and careers, regardless of their job category and worksite. In 2021, ESPAN welcomed like-minded members from all 21 counties to serve as “captains,” with a primary focus to introduce ESPAN to their peers.
In 2022, ESPAN was recognized by NJEA as an official “affinity group” of the organization, and it continues to gain momentum as it seeks to provide a stronger, more dedicated advocacy structure for ESPs throughout New Jersey.
To learn more about ESPAN visit njea.org/ESPAN.