Like many schools across the country, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has struggled to fill vacancies this year, especially for direct care roles such as teachers’ assistants and residential instructors.
“Those are the positions that are typically paid less than our contract staff and we’re really having a hard time getting applications to fill those jobs,” Superintendent Emily Coleman said.
But the tight-knit school has less of an issue with retainment: Many staff members have worked there for decades.
“At the beginning of the year we do the service pin awards and we hand them out,” Coleman said. “And we have so many staff that have been here 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 35, sometimes they get their 40-year pin — which is crazy to me — but a lot of people have worked here a long time.”
Renee Toy has been at the school 36 years. She started out in TSBVI’s dorms for four years before getting a job teaching in the elementary department.
“And I thought, ‘I will happily teach here until I die,’” she said.
She’s now the school’s learning resource center director and runs the library. And often she’ll run into her husband, who she met nearly 30 years ago at the school.
Roger Toy is an occupational therapist, who helps kids with tasks like tying their shoes, learning to write their signatures and using wheelchairs.
“When you hear from parents, ‘I can’t believe you taught my kid how to tie their shoes, I didn’t think they’d ever be able to,’ that’s really rewarding,” he said.
Renee and Roger got to know one another during after-work dance lessons.
“A coworker of ours invited a bunch of us to Calle Ocho on Congress, back then, and they would have free salsa and merengue [classes],” he said.
It helped him see Renee in a different light. They started having lunch together.
“And then just … we fell in love,” Renee said. “It was a work love story.”
Fast forward to the present day, and their son, Mason, now works as a system support specialist in the school’s IT department. (Their daughter, Miranda, used to be a teacher’s assistant at the school, too.)
The job has been a homecoming of sorts for Mason, 22, who grew up visiting his parents at work.
“It’s both a new and familiar experience,” he said. “Texas School for the Blind has always been in my vocabulary. I know the campus very well.”
Colleagues often recognize Mason, even if he doesn’t recognize them.
“Whenever they talk to me, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, you’re working here now? I remember when you were this high,’” he said. “ And I’m just like, ‘It’s nice to meet you.’”
Coleman said it’s been getting harder to recruit job applicants, so she’s happy to see younger people like Mason start to work at the school.
“I’m really excited about families like the Toys, who have been here a long time,” she said. “And now their son is coming into the fold.”
While it’s too soon to say whether Mason will stay at TSBVI as long as his parents, Roger and Renee know they’re there to stay.
“I mean to me it’s like a no-brainer. Everyone here is wonderful,” Roger said.
“I think that working here at the school has made me a better parent,” Renee said. “And it’s made me a better person.”