Published on Wed., November 29, 2023

On Nov. 14, Lynchburg City Schools presented its first-ever annual Custodial School of Distinction Awards to recognize custodial teams going above and beyond to foster clean, safe school environments. Staff members, community members, and students gathered in the boardroom to watch the presentation of honors.

“At the secondary level, the award goes to E. C. Glass High School, led by the very popular head custodian Gretta Ford,” said Director of Facilities Don Floyd.

His announcement was met with a lively cheer—the loudest of the evening. Ford jogged up to the stand to accept the trophy, accompanied by her teammates. Lovingly nicknamed the Golden Dustpan Award, this recognition crowns the elementary school and the secondary school boasting the highest levels of sanitation and maintenance.

“At LCS, we uphold a tradition of excellence for all, and that doesn’t just apply to academics. Maintaining stellar facilities where students and staff members can thrive is an important part of our mission,” said LCS Deputy Superintendent of Operations & Strategic Planning Reid Wodicka.

Three custodians in School Board Room holding awards
Left to right: E. C. Glass custodians Carmaleta Coles, Gretta Ford, and Jasmine Ware.
Beyond the Broom

Ford certainly knows how to look after a building—though E. C. Glass is the biggest school in the division, she and her “blue crew” maintain exacting standards of cleanliness. But that’s not the only reason she’s become a beloved fixture in the community. She’s made an unmistakable impact through the relationships she’s built with staff members and students.

“I want to show our students love from the time they walk in the door to the time they leave. I greet every student I see because so many people go through their day not being recognized,” Ford said.

There’s a slip of paper on the door to her maintenance closet designating her as the “Mayor of E. C. Glass”—a nickname she’s earned over her decade serving the school. She’s connected to everything and everyone—if students or staff members have questions about anything, whether clubs or college applications, she can point them in the right direction.

Ford connects student groups with community service opportunities, helps organize class reunions, introduces students to Beacon of Hope’s post-secondary preparedness programs, and serves the football team dinner before games. The biggest Hilltoppers fan around, she’s in the stands every Friday night cheering for her school.

Ford holding paper that reads "Gretta Ford Mayor of EC Glass"

“Ms. Gretta is the glue that holds this school together,” said E. C. Glass tenth grader Weston Englund, who’s become close friends with Ford over the past year and a half.

Ford’s history as an LCS icon stretches back to 1998, when she started as a part-time custodian at Linkhorne Middle School and Dearington Elementary School. After a stint as Dearington’s head custodian, she became an HVAC maintenance technician—the first female mechanical employee in the division. By the time she took over the custodial department at E. C. Glass, she was already known and loved by families all over town.

“I’ve always worked with kids. The best part is the community you build—people from 20 years ago will still come up to me and say, ‘Hey, Ms. Gretta,’” said Ford, who taught preschool and worked in daycare for years after graduating from Heritage High School in 1989.

Ford says she serves as an “unofficial counselor,” offering students a listening ear whenever they need one. They know they can come to her with their aspirations, questions, concerns, and challenges without being judged.

“During lunch, I would talk to Ms. Gretta about things I was doing, my classes, and my plans for the future. She inspired me to pursue my goal to become an HVAC technician or mechanic,” Englund said.

Gretta Ford with student in courtyard
Ford and E. C. Glass tenth grader Weston Englund.

Ford says one of the most rewarding things about her career is watching students evolve over the years. She’s seen generations of students grow up, but she never gets tired of investing in relationships with them.

“I’ve had kids tell me that if it weren’t for me, they don’t know how they would’ve graduated. If I can just touch one child’s life for the better, I know I can multiply that impact,” Ford said.

Creating a Welcoming Space

At the elementary level, T. C. Miller Elementary School for Innovation took home the Golden Dustpan Award for the 2023-24 school year. Its two custodians, Dora Landa and Sarah Bateman, are meticulous in their care for the school.

“It means everything to me as a principal to hear compliments from parents about how clean and well-taken-care-of the building is,” said T. C. Miller principal Christen Rhodes. “It’s an old building, but it’s sparkling.”

Two custodians with school principal holding awards
Left to right: T. C. Miller principal Christen Rhodes and custodians Sarah Bateman and Dora Landa.

Landa started at T. C. Miller in July, but she’s been a custodian for LCS for the past five years, previously serving Dunbar Middle School, Heritage Elementary School, and Empowerment Academy. Originally from Las Vegas, Landa ran her own home cleaning business before moving to Lynchburg.

“You might not think having a clean environment affects your emotions, but it does. I care a lot about the students and their learning areas. It makes a difference,” Landa said.

A homemaker at heart, Landa says her love for the custodial profession stems from her desire to uplift young people by providing a safe, beautiful environment. With nine grandchildren and four children, she’s had decades of experience.

“I enjoy hosting gatherings for my family and creating a clean, comforting space for them. But I know not every student has a supportive family life at home, so I do everything I can to create a welcoming place for them at school,” Landa said.

Dora Landa standing in school hallway

Montague Sparrow, the head custodian at Sandusky Middle School, shares a similar philosophy. Since he started in May, Sparrow has led a complete overhaul of custodial operations at the school. He and his team won the secondary-level Most Improved Award for the 2023-24 school year. 

With pride, he scrolls through his phone to reveal before-and-after pictures of various spots around the school: formerly scuffed floors waxed to a mirror-like shine, bathrooms restored to their original glory, and windows washed to perfection. The state of the facility has come a long way since he started, and it’s only improving.

Montague Sparrow standing in school lobby
Sandusky Middle head custodian Montague Sparrow.

Sparrow worked as a school custodian in New Jersey for nearly 27 years before he moved to Lynchburg and served as a custodian at Heritage elementary and high schools. His expert management strategies and personable demeanor have quickly endeared him to students and staff members. Though he could be a custodian in any industry, he says the schools provide a way to make a tangible difference in students’ lives.

“I love interacting with students, administrators, teachers, cafeteria staff…we’re a nice family here,” Sparrow said. “Administrators and teachers treat me like I’m the one with a doctorate or master’s degree. I think people respect me because I take my job so seriously.”

Cultivating Environments for Excellence

At the elementary level, the Most Improved Award went to Robert S. Payne Elementary School under head custodian Akeem Brown. Honorable Mention distinctions went to Paul Munro Elementary School under Mark Johnson and Linkhorne Middle School under Donald Mays. 

Custodian holding award in School Board Room
Robert S. Payne head custodian Akeem Brown accepts the Most Improved Award.

The Golden Dustpan Awards are part of a new focused initiative to beautify learning spaces across the division. Buildings will undergo regular standardized cleanliness and maintenance inspections, and administrators will work with custodial staff to support any necessary improvements. 

“As a custodian, you have a big responsibility to promote the growth of young minds. It’s important to maintain a clean, safe, and orderly space so students can focus on learning and teachers can focus on teaching,” Sparrow said. 

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