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Tennant Company, a world leader in designing, manufacturing and marketing solutions to reinvent how the world cleans, announced the first round of finalists in its fourth annual Custodians Are Key program, an eight-month recognition campaign that rewards the great work K-12 custodians are doing in schools around the country and honors them and their school with a $15,000 prize package. The three finalists were chosen from a field of nearly 1,400 nominations from around the U.S. and Canada.

This year’s first three finalists are Fabian Emery of Keith & Karen Hayes Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada; Judy Preete of Indus School in Indus, Alberta, Canada; and Keith Venable of Shallowater ISD in Ransom Canyon, Texas. Each finalist receives a $500 gift card and a chance to win the grand prize.

“To say we were impressed by the amount of heartfelt nominations this year would be an understatement,” says Amanda Herbert, marketing manager of Tennant Company. “Every year it gets harder to only choose our 12 finalists – and deservedly so – there are so many moving stories being shared by teachers, students and communities in support of the custodians who make their schools better every day. What stood out to us this year is that the custodial teams are playing an even more integral part within the school ecosystem, given all of the challenges during the last couple of years. Even so, with all of the added pressures and responsibilities schools are now taking on regarding cleanliness, there are so many custodians who still go above and beyond their job description to make a positive impact on the school and the students.”

First Three Finalists Represent the Best of the Best in the U.S.

Fabian Emery was nominated by Michelle Thom, assistant principal of Keith & Karen Hayes Elementary School. Emery has an “all in” mentality, going above and beyond to help in any situation with a positive attitude and a smile on his face. He has been known to take extra time to assist with family events at the school, visiting with students and their families, as well as to come in during the weekend when there are additional projects that can’t be done during the school day. Recently, Emery began an incentive program for students, handing out “Hero Grams” at lunch to students who help others, earn respect, remember safety and own their behavior and education. 

“All the students are lined up to be the custodian helper for the day,” says Thom. Outside of the school, Emery volunteers his time with a flag football team, instilling in his fourth and fifth grade players the importance of respectful behavior and good work ethic. 

Judy Preete was nominated by Indus School Learning Support Teacher, Kim Hart. Preete has helped create a caring, safe and connected environment for students for more than 15 years, knowing that feeling connected is crucial for self-advocating, asking for help, developing positive self-image, improving social and communication skills and being engaged in school life. 

One way she builds this connection is by developing relationships with individual students, getting to know them well enough to let appropriate staff know if a student needs help, involving students in leadership activities, participating in the life skills activities in the Learning Support Program, and attending extracurricular events to support students. 

Preete goes even further by organizing celebrations of success (on her own time and with her own money), decorating the school for holidays and special occasions, baking and cooking for the staff, and purchasing books at the book fair for students who otherwise would not be able to do so. 

“Our school is a beautiful and caring place to be, and Judy is big part of that,” says Hart. “I can't imagine our school without her.”

Keith Venable was nominated by Crystal Miller, a parent in the Shallowater school district. Venable wears many hats at Shallowater, managing the custodial staff and budget, assisting in maintenance-specific duties, and even driving athletes, students and band members to and from out-of-town games. 

“His commitment to Shallowater is unmatched,” says Miller. “He is compassionate, caring, diligent and hardworking, which makes him by far a super custodian!” 

Venable maintains open lines of communication with his superiors and those he leads throughout the day, and he stays on top of all supply needs, reaching out to vendors well in advance to make sure the school isn’t caught off-guard. He has high standards for his school and ensures they have the very best supplies — while sticking to the budget. Most of all, Venable is dependable, always ready to lend a hand when needed. “As far as a super custodian, I believe Keith is top notch,” says Miller. “In fact, he does all of this with ease, so he may just have a super suit already under his clothes.”

Custodians Are Key Timeline

This year’s program began with a call for nominations on Sept. 13, 2022. Nominations closed Nov. 15, 2022, and a total of 12 finalists will be selected. The campaign concludes in late May 2023, when a single grand prize winner will be announced.

The grand prize winner will receive a prize valued at $5,000, while his or her school receives $10,000. Last year’s winner was Gladys Hernandez of Blue Valley CAPS in Overland Park, Kan.

Tennant will announce the remaining nine finalists throughout the school year. Visit tennantco.com/custodian to learn more about Tennant Company’s Custodians Are Key program.

To read about last year's winner, click here