From a rotary phone to the internet: Guttierez retires after 36 years

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 8:15pm

Marsha Guttierez can tick off some incredible numbers: 12 superintendents, five guidance counselors, seven special education directors, eight principals, and uncountable number of boat rides to and from the island, and hundreds of students.

Those are just some of the statistics that mark her more than 36 years at the Block Island School. Guttierez is retiringas Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent for one very simple reason, she said: “It’s time.”

Time passes. She said that there were two students in her first graduation class in 1984 and one of those graduates has had two kids graduate since then, Guttierez said. There were the nine years spent when her office was in a construction trailer, a place she described simply as “cold, cold, cold.” There have been 26 changing faces on the School Committee. The school had a total of 65 students when she arrived.

Guttierez came to the island in the mid-1970s when her husband Tony was still in the Coast Guard. They were here for a couple of years, and then her husband was transferred to the Great Lakes. When another transfer to Alaska seemed imminent the couple came back to the island.

That led to Guttierez’s first day, Dec. 16, 1982, when she was hired as a part-time secretary. Her long tenure has also been witness to the changing of office technology.

“We shared an office, shared a desk, we shared the typewriter and the phone,” she said, remembering it was a rotary phone. She remembers the miracle of the latest and greatest in officeware: the mimeograph and the fax machine. Now there is high-speed internet at the school. There were two grades sharing most of the classrooms in those days.

“Marsha may be the most senior town employee,” said her friend, Marlee Lacoste, who was visiting in Guttierez’s office.

Another remarkable statistic is that Guttierez has been a commuter for 24 years. If the boat on Friday was running, she was on it. “I’ve always taken the regular boat,” she said. “I’ve never been on the fast ferry.” And the rides weren’t always pleasant. “There have been some horrible, horrible rides,” she said.

Her responsibilities at the school are varied: she supplies statistics to the state, tracks down substitute teachers when they are needed — “We are creative in filling those positions” — and records the School Committee meetings. She’s been on search committees, building committees. She also is in possession of almost 40 years of institutional memory at the school.

“She’s the glue that holds the system together,” said Lacoste. “She has never been anyone who has asked for any kind of notice. There has never been a superintendent who wanted to get rid of her, they were thanking her.”

What will she miss the most?

“One of the things I enjoy is seeing the kids walking by the door when they return in September,” she said. “You see how tall they’ve gotten.”