Inside ECS – Cindy Irons, Woodland

Walking into Woodland Elementary’s cafeteria, you’re almost certain to see one of two things: Cindy Irons hugging a student, or the food service team laughing and having a great time.

As the food services manager at Woodland Elementary, it’s Cindy’s responsibility to keep the cafeteria running smoothly. But she’s never seen her title as a job, so much as a calling of service.

“When people think about food service, they only think about the food that kids are eating,” said Cindy. “It’s an important part of what we do, but we are so much more than that. For anyone who works in food service, this is more than a ‘job’ or ‘going to work,’ it’s about helping kids and being with kids. These kids are our life. There’s not a single employee in food service who doesn’t worry about kids over breaks – wondering what they are going to eat or who is going to feed them.”

Cindy became the food services manager after seeing her daughter’s impact as a teacher. She recognized that she could help kids, and knew she needed to be in a school. A role as a long-term sub, then later as a permanent sub for cafeteria managers, led her to Cleveland Elementary and later to Woodland Elementary. She has been with the district for six years.

“From my time subbing at every school in the district, I have positive things to say about each of them,” said Cindy. “But there’s something about Woodland that makes it a great fit for me. Every morning, every staff member stands in the hallways or outside, greeting kids as they walk in the door. This school is filled with smiles, hugs, and ‘good mornings.’ That’s who I am.”

During my conversation with Cindy, more than one child came up to hug her. At one point, Cindy had proud tears in her eyes, and a student recognized she’d been crying and asked her if she was okay. It’s clear that the love she shows her students makes an impact. “For some of these kids, we’re their constant,” said Cindy. “They know us, they know how much we care about them, and they know they are loved. I always tell my team to remember that sometimes a child who needs love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways. I had a kindergarten student a couple days ago who was crying, but wouldn’t talk to anyone. I tried to calm her down and I had her stay next to me. She never told anyone what was wrong with her, but the next day, she came up to me and hugged me. Without saying a word, she knows someone cares about her and is there for her.”

“I wish more people could see and understand what an amazing opportunity it is to work in food service. This is truly the most rewarding job. Other employers care that a job gets done, but here, it’s so much more about people. There is no ‘I’ in team here. From 8:00am until 1:45pm, I am surrounded by truly the most incredible group of ladies. Everyone respects one another and what’s happening in each others’ lives. When one of us is down, the rest of us put in a little extra.”

This fun team mentality is evident as one of the other food service ladies stepped in and asked if she really has to dance for the kids on Monday. She’d lost a bet with a class, and indeed, she will be dancing on Monday. “I’ll find a good song for you over the weekend,” quipped Cindy, as the custodian chuckled in the background. It’s clear that between hugs, laughing, and dancing, Woodland’s cafeteria is bursting with positive energy from the woman who manages it.

Cindy is currently reading: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, an inspiration from her daughter. Outside of work, Cindy loves spending time with her family, including her grandchildren Brettin and Pierson.