Seattle's Child

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Otis Golden III

Paraeducator Otis Golden, III says his kids are great customers and he aims to give them great service. Photo by Joshua Huston

It’s all about customer service: Paraeducator Otis Golden III

Otis Golden’s day begins at 8:40 a.m. at Rainier Beach High School. As a paraprofessional, Golden works his way through seven different classrooms each day, supporting students with individualized education plans (IEPs) and other special educational needs. Golden likes to say that his day is one of socializing, but stresses that these interactions are far more than chit-chat. When he engages with students, Golden aims to help them become better adults.

Golden delivers an array of services mandated by the federal government and written into a child’s education plan or “504 plan,” which outlines how a student’s special needs can be met with accommodations, modification and other services. Golden’s goal: remove any barriers to learning.

Customer service is key

Golden believes in providing excellent “customer service” and likes to go above and beyond for students. That perspective makes sense – his past experience is in sales. It’s why Golden thinks of the students he works with as his customers. He works, he says, to keep his customers happy. 

“If my customer is happy and my customer’s parents are happy, then everybody’s happy,” says Golden.

The students with whom Golden works may have physical disabilities, but they may face other challenges as well: “Because something in their outside life has made them fall behind,” says Golden. “Now they need individual help.”

A vital role

Nowadays, Golden regularly reminds himself – and other educators – that their roles in school are particularly vital in light of the social-emotional loss students suffered during the pandemic. 

The first person a student often sees is their bus driver and the last may be the school custodian or other paraprofessional employee. Certified teachers are often the third or fourth person a student encounters in their school day. The non-certified paraprofessional staff that help a student arrive at the classroom with a smile on their face helps everyone, including the teacher. That driver and custodian, Golden stresses, may have as much impact on the students as their instructional assistants and teachers do. 

Making their day easier

“It is our job to make sure that the students start out with the best day and end with the best day,” says Golden. “We like to say we start the day for the teachers, because if we do a good job in the mornings and the afternoons when the kids see the teachers, their day is a lot easier.” 

Golden grew up in Seattle’s south end and attended Seattle Public Schools. He was bused to Ingraham High School during SPS’s mandatory busing program in the late 1970s. He’s been working for SPS for six years and is the Pacific Region Coordinator for the National Education Association Democratic Caucus, where he coordinates state captains in their legislative work, helps organize candidates and assists in other ways.

A family of educators

His wife has worked for the district for more than 16 years. That, says Golden, puts him at an advantage over other paras. He does not need a second job to make ends meet, as many instructional assistants do.

“Making what instructional assistants make and not having a second job is rare. If it was just me or my wife hadn’t been working as long and making what she makes, then, yeah, I would literally have a second job because there’s no way I could possibly live,” says Golden, who, along with a pay increase, wants to see paraeducators paid for 8-hour work days and receive healthcare benefits.

A call for equity

In many districts sick and personal leave for paraprofessionals is generated based on the number of hours worked, and a para who experiences a health issue may run out of leave. According to Golden, if paraprofessionals worked eight-hour days, just 30 minutes more before and after the bell, they would accrue more sick and personal leave. 

“When I had hip surgery,” Golden says, “I ran out of leave before I was actually able to go back to work and that’s simply because we only work so many days out of the year. If we had a full day we would get the extra benefits to last us throughout a regular school year.”

More at Seattle’s Child:

Paras: The unsung heroes of public schools

‘They are all capable of great things’

Walking for happiness: It works every time

About the Author

Rebecca Mongrain

Rebecca Mongrain is an obsessive knitter, writer, foodie, photographer and mother living in Seattle.