Ring the security buzzer at most Warwick schools, look up at the camera that you know is focused on you and wait for the squawk on the speaker – “Yes, who’s there?”
That doesn’t happen too often at Sherman School. Unless you’re a first time visitor, you’re going to get a welcome using your first name and “come on in.”
Kathy Wickham has been the welcoming voice and so much more at Sherman for more than three decades. On Friday it was her 37th anniversary to the day that she stepped into the role as a substitute secretary to then-Principal Brian Pendergast.
“I was to stay for two weeks,” Wickham said, standing at the apex of the school’s administrative operation. Students and faculty filtered in and out of the office. Forms were being dropped off and picked up. The phone rang, a parent wanted to let her daughter know a friend would be picking her up that afternoon.
It’s the kind of call she gets countless times in the course of a week.
When the eldest of her two daughters turned 10, Wickham had the time to find a job. Being a substitute school secretary fit perfectly as the hours and calendar coincided with her children. What worked even better is that the girls were both Sherman students.
At the time she started, the school had more than 400 students; today, the enrollment is 310. Recalling the days when she worked with a typewriter and hand-cranked a mimeograph to get out copies, she finds technology is the biggest change. While technology has made many tasks easier, she finds it has also increased the level of communication. More than ever, as school nurse Donna Rainone observes, “She is the heart of the school.”
Rainone said Wickham is a steady and calming influence. “She remembers everything…she’s our go-to person.”
When Rainone learned Friday morning that it was Wickham’s 37th anniversary, she went into action. She rallied acting principal Charlee McElroy and members of the school sunshine committee. She arranged for flowers and two cakes, one with the words of former Principal Roy Costa. When Costa arrived at the school, he said, “I finally get to work with a legend.”
McElroy shares that sentiment. She said Wickham runs the school and taught her what she knows.
True to her character, Wickham went about doing her job as teachers stopped in to offer their congratulations and have a bite of cake.
“I’m a low key person,” she confided. She has no plans to retire and enjoys being active, as well as six weeks off during the summer when she gets to work on her garden.
Asked what she finds most difficult about the job as secretary, Wickham said adjusting to a new administration. Sometimes that involves a new principal, but she is also referring to the department’s administration and what they look for from schools. She named the late Ann Hitchener, director of school personnel and human resources, as being one of the best.
Do students remember her and return to visit?
Wickham smiles at the question. Former students are now parents of Sherman students and while out doing errands people will occasionally come up to her and ask ‘didn’t you work at Sherman School?’
Her answer is that she still does and most likely she remembers the person’s name and something from their days at Sherman.