James Lefko, food service manager at Bayshore Elementary School, wasn't expecting so much company Monday morning. He was too busy.
That was the idea as Lefko was feted as the 2014 School District of Lee County Educational Support Person of the Year in a surprise announcement at the school.
"It's a huge honor. There are so many good support people. To be named Support person of the year is overwhelming," Lefko said.
Lefko was named a finalist and went through the interview process to be selected, but hadn't heard anything about it for weeks.
Lefko said he was helping out a class with a math lesson when he saw a group congregating outside the door, including the school district superintendent. That's when he knew.
Lefko earned the award for his work outside the already daunting task of supervising and managing the daily production of 900 student and staff meals each day.
School lunch isn't the most recognized position in the world, but Lefko does it every day with great pride.
He also does the extra- curricular activities because he wants the children to have opportunities to learn in different ways.
"Lefko represents the great job that all support staff do in the Lee County School District. It shows what a difference it makes when you have a staff member who cares and go above and beyond," said Bayshore Principal Lynn Herrell.
In the kitchen, Harrell said that when he arrived, Lefko was able to organize and manage the cafeteria, streamlining procedures for efficiency. The cafeteria staff quickly bought into the new system which has become a well-oiled machine.
In the three years Lefko has been at the school, he has done much more than serve lunch. He oversees the school's after-school program, Busy Bees, was instrumental in creating a fishing club at the school, and has been working with students to re-establish gardens on the school campus.
As director of the Busy Bees program, Lefko is responsible for training and scheduling and budgeting.
He founded the Bayshore Fishing Club in February 2011 with the main focus being to teach kids how to make responsible decisions while fishing and throughout their lives.
For Lefko, the school staff and students are like a second family, unlike his previous career in the restaurant industry, where he felt undervalued.
"Bayshore isn't just a job to me, it's a part of my life. The kids and staff here are like my family," Lefko said. "A lot of the staff members e-mailed me to congratulate me. Winning this award is just the icing on the cake. I always felt appreciated here."
Lefko said he plans on getting his certification to become a teacher.
Lefko was named ahead of five other finalists, which included Deanna Francey, a paraprofessional at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts.
About the only bad thing was that Lefko couldn't take the award home. It seems the plaque had his first name as Ryan. The school system will have it fixed.