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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.

“Me too,” added Karlee, a first-grader who blows her grandmother kisses whenever she spots her in the picture window of the office.

As the senior staff member at El Verano, McInnis is a constant go-to person. She keeps up-to-date with happenings in the school district, catching up regularly with office staff from other district campuses.

Plus, “the lunch room is always a fun place to hang out,” she said. “There’s always a gamut of things to sit and chat about. The social aspect of the job is just wonderful. I’m leaving home and coming home (to school) all in the same day.”

It’s been especially rewarding for McInnis to see how highly regarded and accomplished her daughter is.

“It was awesome to have her here and see her as a teacher,” McInnis said. “I’m a proud momma to hear people say we are so lucky to have her as a teacher here.”

Although their interactions typically are school-related, “sometimes you slide in a little (personal conversation).”

Occasionally McInnis gets to spend a few moments with her grandchildren during class time. She recently made a delivery to her granddaughter’s class and got to stay briefly to listen to Karlee read a book about deer aloud. She also got to help chaperone Karlee’s field trip to Safari West.

Wyatt has had so much time in the office that McInnis says he’s almost qualified for a job there.

McInnis has great appreciation for the students at El Verano, as well as those who left for middle school years ago. She keeps in touch with several families and enjoys when former students stop by to say hello.

“Barb had a huge impact on me and my kids,” said Kristi Koeller Magnani, who was an active volunteer at El Verano when her sons Kyle and Connor Magnani, now in their 20s, attended the school. She’s among many second-generation families McInnis got to know; Koeller Magnani attended El Verano in the 1960s and early ’70s.

McInnis “has a heart of gold,” Koeller Magnani said. “She’s compassionate and has empathy and will do anything for you. She truly cares.”

McInnis has been working since she was 12, first as a babysitter, then as a cashier at a shoe store when she was 15.

She spent a few years working in the main office of the San Francisco Unified School District before working as an office substitute with the Sonoma Valley school district and before arriving at El Verano.

McInnis also spent time as a stay-at-home mother to Hinman and her older sister Kim McInnis, now in their 40s.

Even after nearly 50 years in the workforce, McInnis is hesitant about retiring. She’s looking forward to spending time with her husband, who retired five years ago from a career as a teamster, and is anxious to leisurely sit on her back deck in the morning with a cup of tea, rather than race out the door for her 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. workday.

She has a “sense of identity” at El Verano, where countless kids, families and staff members have relied on her. She’ll miss those daily encounters “and those little faces” of students who become so familiar as they progress through grade school.

McInnis leaves her job with valued friendships, rich memories and a sense of satisfaction. She hopes she was able to “give back,” too.

“You just hope you’ve touched someone,” she said.

Admittedly, she’s especially going to miss the workday interactions with her daughter and grandchildren.

“It’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to leave,” she said.

A reception honoring Barbara McInnis and other retiring El Verano staff will be held 7 p.m. Wednesday outdoors at the school, 18606 Riverside Drive, Sonoma.

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.

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