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By Heather World
She knows each child's name, his teacher, his teacher last year, and his parents' names. She knows how to use the photocopy machine and where the old PTA files are. She knows who added what to the campus and when they added it.
Patty Poli, Alvarado's secretary, is retiring this year after 26 years behind the office desk, and with her departure the Douglass Street elementary school will lose one of its most valuable resources.
Poli's treasure trove of knowledge did not come easily. She recalls an entirely different Alvarado 26 years ago.
"The PTA back then consisted of one parent selling popcorn every day at lunch," she says. The school had one resource specialist and one student adviser trying to serve nearly 500 students, many of whom had special needs. Students had only one recess, with many grades in the yard at once.
"It was just the principal and me," remembers Poli.
Then came the early 1990s, and the school began to change, she says. Vince Matthews, the principal at the time, applied for federal funds to help the special needs children. The money paid for new paraprofessional staff and another secretary. It paid for small but important details like a bell system.
Matthews also introduced staggered recesses and morning circle, and he fostered good relations with the teachers.
"He set the format for so many things we have now," she says.
Each principal since Matthews has improved the school, in Poli's opinion. The teaching staff, too, has always been like family.
"They came early, stayed late, and sometimes came in on weekends," she says.
In Poli's early days, Alvarado competed for students with Rooftop Elementary, another public school with a strong arts program. Through a friendship with Rooftop's secretary, Poli began to see that Alvarado had Rooftop's same assets. Soon, a group of dedicated parents, including many from Noe Valley, began to realize that, too.
"They took a chance and made a big difference," she says.
Today Alvarado has two reading-recovery specialists, 13 paraprofessionals, another part-time secretary, and a very active PTA.
None would be surprised to learn that Poli's favorite part of her job has been talking to the 5-year-olds.
"Our kids are so great," she says. She praises the parents for dropping everything to help the school with energy and enthusiasm.
Angela Danison, an Alvarado mom who has been at the school for seven years, says Poli has been a comforting constant in the children's lives.
"She is the one the students go to when they need a Band-Aid or an ice pack," she said. "Some Alvarado graduates come back years later to visit with Patty, to tell her where they are going to middle or high school or what their plans are for college. And she remembers them all!"
After retiring in June, the San Francisco native plans to travel through Europe with her semi-retired husband of 40 years. She has a special interest in Italy, as she was born to native Italian parents. Growing up, Poli did not speak Italian at home, as her older brother and sister did. Instead, she picked up fluency after marrying her high school sweetheart, whose parents spoke little English. The couple graduated from Polytechnic High across from Kezar Stadium, which has since been torn down.
When she returns home from Europe, Poli will settle into her retirement, cleaning out the corners of her house, where she says various things have accumulated. "I want to dump half the house."
She will also have more time for her children, a son and a daughter in their 30s.
As the next school year starts, Poli expects to volunteer at her granddaughter's school in Marin County.
Well and good, say Alvarado parents and students, but will she visit us?
"Oh, I'll be back to visit--of course!" says Poli.