FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Williamson County Schools kicked off the school year short hundreds of employees, causing delays for students and requiring parents to volunteer to fill in the gaps.
"I was really surprised. In fact, the first week I came in to volunteer, there were only three people [in the kitchen] working for a school of I think almost 600 Kids," explained Mary Ensor, a parent of two students at Walnut Grove Elementary School in Franklin.
Ensor had not worked in a cafeteria until August when a request went out for parent volunteers to assist serving lunch.
"I think student lunch is such an important part of the day," said Ensor, "Not only does it kind of nourish their bodies but also their mind, as well, they're able to kind of chat with their friends and get that mental break that they, you know, really need throughout the day."
She decided she could spare a few hours each day the first few weeks of school to help the food service staff serve the students. It is help that the staff said they really needed.
"Never before have we had like 60-some openings [district-wide]. So this year in particular has been really tough on us," explained Walnut Grove Elementary Food Service Manager Emmett Collins.
Right now, including himself, Collins only has three full-time employees.
"You need two on the line serving; really should have two cashiers, and then one backing up up the line in case you run low on food, you can always quick cook it," said Collins. "Five [staff] would be great. But I'd be happy with four."
Collins has worked in food service for 20 years and at Walnut Grove Elementary for five.
"I just love it," he said with a grin on his face. "I just love being with the kids and I can't believe more people aren’t in food service... The kids are great! I mean, it seems like I should be paying them to be here!"
After a few weeks on the serving line, Ensor concurs.
"You know, it's such a rewarding job. I don't think people really know that you couldn't really until you actually do it," said Ensor. "It's been great to see the kids coming through the line, choosing different foods and actually some trying new foods, just really great to see them so excited -- [it's] a really fun part of their day."
But food service employees are not the only missing staff at Williamson County Schools. The district is currently in need of bus drivers, before and after school child care workers (SACC), school psychologists, special education teachers and Spanish teachers.
Ensor told NewsChannel 5 the lack of bus drivers has made her elementary school children arrive at home at least 20 minutes late, "it's a very long day, especially in, you know, the younger years."
She said she has resorted to picking her kids up at school, which she knows is not an option for all families and not preferred as it creates a bottleneck in the school parking lot, but she feels she does not have much of a choice on some days.
"Transportation has been really good about letting us know when the bus is going to be late. But they just need more bus drivers," stated Ensor. "More [drivers] to get the kids home from school in a timely fashion. It's not the school or the district, it's, it's, we just need more people."
If you are interested in working in Williamson County Schools, click here for the online applications.