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Recognizing local Unsung Heroes
Portal custodian has worked in school system for 23 years
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The custodial staff at Portal Elementary School is pictured, left to right: Cindy Reese, Maria Lee, Idella Lindbergh and Shirley Jones. - photo by ROGER ALLEN/special
      (Note: The following is the first in a weekly series of stories about some "Unsung Heroes" in the Bulloch County school system.)

       Ever since the new Portal Elementary school opened some 10 years ago the school has been kept virtually spotless. According to Principal Paul Hudson, much of that credit goes to his head custodian Shirley Jones.
       Born in Bulloch County, Jones has worked for the public school system for 23 years. When asked about her family, Jones said her mother is like the energizer bunny, "never knowing what quit is."
       Her dad is a retired plumber. She has 10 siblings, some of whom still live around Portal, and some have moved elsewhere. The entire family is a very close-knit group, Jones said.
       Hudson said the fact that "Miss Shirley is always putting the extra touches on everything she does without being asked means so very much to me and all of my staff."
       Hudson said "Miss Shirley" and her team of three - Cindy Reese, Idella Lindbergh and Maria Lee - even spent three days of their holiday break waxing and polishing the floors of the school for when the staff and students returned after Christmas.
       A teacher who has worked with Jones for 16 years, Carole Smith, said: "Miss Shirley treats the faculty and staff at PES as if they're members of her own family."
       "She always does whatever dirty job has to be done, and then acts likes it no big deal," Smith said. "Miss Shirley really has a heart of pure gold. She doesn't want anybody to know how much she does to help the kids."
But Jones believes it's just part of her job and also that of her team.
       "My girls have got to get some credit, too. Cindy has worked with me since Willow Hill (the old elementary school) and Idella and Maria have both worked with me ever since the school opened. There is no me without them."
       She is a no-nonsense and fair boss.
       "There are no problems here. Everything we start, we finish," she said. "We figure, if it's got to be done, then we'll just get in there and do it. I also don't ask my girls to do anyhing I won't do."
She did admit that there is a little redheaded boy she's particularly fond of.
       "One day before school I went outside and saw his head sticking up out of a ditch," she said. "I asked him, ‘What are you doing in that water?' He replied: ‘I'm just playing, Miss Shirley.'"
       "I told him, you get yourself out of there right now! And he did. Now, he's usually the first child at the door waiting to be let in every morning."
       And then, remembering that moment, her guard came down, and Miss Shirley smiled.

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