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Publication Date: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Laurel School's Carl Jones: A man of many hats Laurel School's Carl Jones: A man of many hats (October 31, 2001)

By Marjorie Mader

Almanac Staff Writer

Who's that tall guy in crazy hats, helping little children cross busy Ringwood Avenue to get to and from Laurel School in Atherton?

He's the incomparable Carl Jones, custodian at Laurel School and a jack-of-all-trades.

He started wearing a tall, red and black Dr. Seuss hat for his crossing guard duties seven years ago because he wanted to make sure motorists would see him and the children. Now he has about 54 crazy hats, including a red, white and blue patriotic one given to him recently by a parent.

Sometimes he wears a magician's cape, a bright kimono or a Halloween costume, always dressed for the occasion.

"Getting the morning off to a good start makes me feel good," says Carl, who can bring a smile to a downcast student, "jump start" a parent's stalled car, and surprise teachers with a complete breakfast.

"I enjoy being with the kids. The staff and the parents are great, and I get a lot of rewards," he says. "I try to do the best I can to keep the classes and school grounds safe, clean and comfortable."

Commuting from Half Moon Bay, he starts work at 6:30 a.m., checking the school grounds and opening the office and classrooms.

"I never realized how hard a teacher's job was until I started working for the Menlo Park district," he says in a serious voice.

When teachers run out of "stuff," he gets supplies right away from his closet. He can fix a VCR and does whatever he can to make life easier for teachers and staff. The kindergartners call him "the milkman" because he delivers their milk each day.

"Carl is a real people person," says his boss, Principal Nancy Hendry. "He truly likes to make people feel good."

He brings a professional approach to his role as custodian and takes pride in his work, she says. During Laurel's construction and renovation projects, Carl was Nancy's "right arm" because of his knowledge and experience in construction.

The children like and respect "Mr. Jones," who towers above them at 6 feet 4 inches. He knows the children's names and has been a "big brother" to some boys, taking them under his wing.

Carl enters into the spirit and activities of the K-2 school, says Principal Hendry. He's the music DJ for Laurel's back-to-school "Quarter Gourmet" potluck and the spring family picnic. He also takes on extra projects for the school, such as setting up for PTA functions, and he stays and participates.

Carl's "baby back ribs" are famous. He uses a technique he's perfected over 10 years that requires slow, slow cooking and lots of attention.

His ribs dinner for 20 people, offered with the school board as a live auction item, raked in $4,500 at the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation's auction a year ago. Auction planners already have asked him if he would do two dinners this year. And, of course, the amiable Carl agreed.

Growing up in Chicago, the oldest of six children, Carl says his interest in cooking grew from watching his mom, a single parent, cook.

He moved to California from Minnesota in 1990 and worked in construction. He helped build Mountain Mike's Pizza & Pasta in Redwood City, and was asked to stay on as a cook when the building was completed. He wound up as the manager before leaving to work on construction projects in the Burlingame school district.

Carl says he enjoys his work at Laurel. "I try to keep a very smooth campus," he says. He takes extra steps _ such as scrubbing down the lunch tables, sterilizing the drinking fountains and keeping bathrooms clean _ to keep kids from getting sick.


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