Everybody knows when Walter DeJesus, a janitor at the Lehman High School Educational Campus, goes on vacation.
“When Walter goes on vacation, it takes three or four people to replace him,” says Trey Hodges, a 9th grade biology teacher at Westchester Square Academy, one of the six schools in the building.
DeJesus, 39, might be the only person in his building who expressed surprise that he is this year’s 32BJ Public School Cleaner of the Year. “I’m gonna be honest with you,” he says, “when you first called me I was shocked. I didn’t expect it.”
Although his shift starts every day at 3 p.m., DeJesus often arrives an hour early. As students stream out of the building, DeJesus gets to work on cleaning around 60 classrooms, sweeping, spot-mopping, taking out the trash and cleaning up graffiti.
On top of the responsibilities of his job, which often keep him in the building past midnight, DeJesus is also the shop steward for the team of 20 janitors working in the complex. DeJesus has been the steward for seven years and as a results frequently fields phone calls at all hours of the day and night.
“I try to make sure that the guys are getting treated right here and that everybody is being treated fairly,” he says.
DeJesus joined 32BJ in 2001 when he was working at a janitor in a residential building in the Bronx. When his got his current job, he continued working at both buildings for almost two years, with most days clocking in at over 18 hours.
“It was tough. But then my wife got pregnant with my son, who is 13 now, so once she gave birth, my wife was like ‘you have to make a decision.’”
DeJesus chose Lehman, where he hopes his son will attend Westchester Square Academy for high school.
“I think it will be good for him,” DeJesus says. “I have a good relationship with a lot of the teachers on my floor.”
When DeJesus isn’t working, he dedicates his time to coaching his son’s baseball team. “I really enjoy that because I get to spend a lot of time with him.”
DeJesus may be a bit sheepish about this honor; he does not take it for granted.
“I appreciate getting nominated. They could have chosen anyone from the five boroughs and they chose me,” he says. “It meant a lot to me.”