Barbara McInnis starts her workday with a perk like no other. The grade-school office manager is greeted with a hug or a hello from her two grandchildren and her daughter, who also spend their day at the same Sonoma Valley campus.
McInnis’ daughter, Jenny Hinman, teaches kindergarten at El Verano Elementary School, where her children, Karlee and Wyatt, are students. The school is a home away from home for all three generations, who love being on campus together.
As the academic year draws to a close, it’s bittersweet for McInnis, who is retiring after 33 years at El Verano. She’ll finally have time for traveling and boating with her husband, Dan, but she’ll miss the students, staff and volunteers who’ve become an extension of her family.
“It took me a long time and a lot of tears to make this decision,” she said. “This school has had such a family feel. It’s like a second home. I’ve made so many wonderful friends here.”
Much has changed since she started out at the school as a receptionist in the fall of 1985. While everything today is computerized, she relied then on a pen and paper to track student attendance and keep other records.
She departs as the Sonoma Valley Unified School District implements online student registration, something she never could have imagined.
“Technology was a huge change,” McInnis, 65, said. “Learning that was a huge change for me.”
She’s witnessed numerous changes during her long career, from fads and fashion trends to teaching and testing standards. The El Verano campus, located in an unincorporated area west of Sonoma city limits, has more English-language learners than earlier in McInnis’ career; the student body now is about 85 percent Hispanic. The school has an enrollment of 429 students from preschool to fifth grade.
When McInnis started out, the school was a K-6 campus.
McInnis, who doesn’t speak Spanish, praises her fellow office staffers and Principal Maite Iturri for their bilingual skills and helping her with any language barriers.
Hinman said her mother is popular at El Verano, with everyone appreciating McInnis’ warmth and readiness to help.
“I hear it a lot that she does her job and does it with her heart,” Hinman said. “She’s always thinking with her heart.”
She’s been teaching at El Verano for 11 years, transferring from another Sonoma Valley campus to join her mother when a job opening came along.
“It’s been pretty special,” Hinman said. “My dream was to teach at El Verano. It became my second home right away.”
Her children, Wyatt, 11, and Karlee, 7, can’t imagine the school office without their grandmother, or “Ba” as they affectionately call her.
Wyatt, who will move from fifth grade to middle school this month, hopes “Ba” will pick him up after school from his new campus once he starts sixth grade.
“He already has my life planned,” McInnis said of her grandson, who is one of two “Student of the Year” honorees at the school.
What’s it been like for Wyatt and Karlee to see their grandmother every day at school, to stop in the office every morning and visit after the dismissal bell rings, sometimes doing homework in the office?
“I love it,” Wyatt said.