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Messages from the Superintendent

Posted: April 28, 2023

A Hero Among Us

In his weekly letter, Superintendent Scott Elder thanks the school custodian who saved a choking student.

La Mesa lead custodian Janet Garcia and fifth-grader Christian Ortiz Gonzales.

La Mesa lead custodian Janet Garcia and fifth-grader Christian Ortiz Gonzales.

We have more than 11,000 employees here at APS and each one serves an important function in helping our school district carry out its mission.

Principals, teachers, and counselors all play vital roles at each of our schools, but so does the army of support staff that works hard every day to clean our schools, prepare and serve school lunches, service our swamp coolers, and organize our graduation ceremonies.

I was reminded of that last week when I heard the story of Janet Garcia, the lead custodian at La Mesa Elementary who was going about her business last Thursday when a crisis unfolded in front of her.

Janet was in the school cafeteria when she noticed that fifth-grader Christian Ortiz Gonzales was in trouble. He had been eating a Frito pie and began choking. Christian was struggling to breathe but still managed to alert a staff member.

The nurse was called, but Janet worried that she wouldn’t make it to Christian in time. So she sprung to action, performing the Heimlich maneuver on Christian, and, after several attempts, she was finally able to dislodge the Frito from Christian’s throat.

I was moved by the photo of Janet and Christian hugging a day after the incident as they described the ordeal to reporters. Janet said she learned the Heimlich maneuver alongside her son when he was in Boy Scouts.   

Janet epitomizes the caliber of employees we have here at APS. She saw that a kid was in trouble and jumped in to help without waiting for anyone to tell her what to do. She is a hero, and I thank her, not just for saving Christian but for showing up each and every day and making sure that students at La Mesa have a bright and beautiful campus.

And to all the other unsung heroes at our campuses and offices – from our administrative assistants to our school police and security officers – I thank you for showing up every day and getting the job done. APS couldn’t function without you.