Kris Kantor has no memories of the custodians at his childhood schools. The students at Hayes Elementary School in Lakewood, Ohio, where Kantor has been a custodian for four years, cannot say the same thing.
On top of keeping busy cleaning the school, Kantor’s goal is to know each and every one of the students’ names. His secret is to associate a certain story or what they are wearing to each kid. While he may get some mixed up, he strives to make all students aware that he is there for them.
“I don’t remember my custodians. That was why a part of me wanted to make sure these kids know who I am,” Kantor said.
Kantor goes above and beyond the school day when it comes to interacting with the students. He designed a safe construction program, called Kids with Kantor, so they can learn life skills while having fun building. In this Sunday morning program, the children learn basic woodworking skills and build various items, such as birdhouses. Kantor displays many of the students’ creations in his work office, such as a jewelry box and a wooden toy airplane.
Kantor’s program has attracted the attention of local businesses, who offer donations such as tools. Home Depot provides Kids with Kantor with supplies and money each month.
Kantor’s dedication and creativity have also captured the attention of Tennant Company, a manufacturer of cleaning technologies, that picked him from among 12 finalists to be grand prize winner in its inaugural Custodians Are Key contest. Kantor and the other finalists were chosen from more than 2,000 nominations from around the United States. As the grand prize winner, Kantor received a US$15,000 check, with $5,00 going to him and $10,000 distributed to Hayes Elementary. Kantor plans to use his portion to purchase a new patio set and grill. Eric Fortuna, principal at Hayes Elementary, said he will consult with Kantor on how best to spend the $10,000 prize money because the custodian always has great ideas.
Scheduling time for students
One of Kantor’s ideas was to rearrange his cleaning schedule to coincide with the kids’ recess, so he had time to sit down with them and have a conversation. His actions were noticed by Maureen Yantek, a school health aide at Hayes Elementary, who nominated Kantor for the campaign last November. She describes him as fastidious about organization and cleanliness, making Hayes the best building in the school district. But it is Kantor’s attention to the students that really makes him stand out.
“Kris lives by the motto that he has painted outside his office: ‘work smarter not harder.’ This enables him to get his regular job duties completed efficiently and effectively, which leaves him time to engage with others,” she said. “What truly sets Kris apart is the respect and kindness he shows to all students, faculty, and staff.”
Kantor took the nomination in stride and didn’t expect to win. “When I was nominated for this, I was really flattered, and I didn’t think much of it,” he said.
Kantor believes his co-workers’ support has helped him connect with the kids easier.
“I am so fortunate to come here and have all of these great, fabulous co-workers,” he said.
RELATED: Tune into Straight Talk with Jeff Cross for an interview with Kris Kantor to learn more about his school initiatives.