March 31, 2011By Tim Simard Observer staff
After a little more than three years as the receptionist with the Williston School District, Carmen Portelli is saying goodbye to students, teachers and staff who have become her extended family.
Thursday, March 31, is Portelli’s last day with the school district. A familiar face to everyone at Williston Central School and a reassuring voice to parents over the phone, Portelli said her brief tenure with the district left a mark on her she never could have imagined.
“I’m in awe of these last few days,” Portelli said. “I’ve gotten so much love here I can’t even tell you.
Calling Portelli “extremely talented,” District Principal Walter Nardelli said many who frequent the reception desk will miss her. Replacing her will not be easy, he said.
“Somebody is going to have some big shoes to fill,” Nardelli said.
Portelli is leaving the school to become the office manager at the new Peak Veterinary Referral Center, due to open on Hurricane Lane on April 11. Instead of working with students each day, Portelli will be the friendly face pet owners will see when entering the center, which will treat sick animals for Champlain Valley residents.
“It’ll be a different position with different challenges, but I’m really looking forward to it,” Portelli said.
But before Portelli leaves the school district, she must say her goodbyes. It’s something she admits will be emotional and difficult.
Every day, many of Williston Central’s 800 students pass by her office. Some wave enthusiastically as they rush through the halls to class, others stop in to say hello or talk about their day, good or bad. These interactions with students is what Portelli said she’ll miss the most when she moves on.
“They’re all wonderful,” Portelli said. “You just never know what questions they’re going to ask, what stories they’re going to tell, or what jokes they’re going to pull.”
Portelli started her receptionist job in late 2007, replacing longtime staff member Mavis Tremblay. Before that, she worked as a volunteer and paraeducator in the school system. As receptionist, Portelli mastered the ability to immediately recognize voices on the other end of the phone. Remembering faces and names was another skill Portelli honed. She believes she can identify many of the current Williston Central students, as well as Williston students currently at Champlain Valley Union High School.
“It’s like having a family of 1,200,” Portelli said, also the mother of three daughters.
On Monday afternoon, while taking phone calls and finishing her duties, more than one staff member and student stopped over to wish her good luck. Seventh grader William Yakubik said he met Portelli when she was a paraeducator and the two stayed friends. At times shy, Portelli helped Yakubik create a stronger voice for himself, he said.
“She let me hold a leadership role in school, and I enjoyed that,” Yakubik said.
Fellow seventh grader Ryan Lackey said Portelli has always lent a sympathetic ear anytime he needed to talk to someone. He wasn’t looking forward to her exit.
“It’s going to be really sad, but I hope to see her around town still,” Lackey said.
Outside her office a number of months ago, Portelli hung a bell urging people to ring it if they’re happy. She said she put it there to remind students there is much to be happy about, especially on bad days. Even though Thursday will be a sad one for Portelli as she says goodbye, she plans to ring the bell loud and clear to remind everyone at Williston Central how proud and content they made her feel every day.