As Ron Crowley weaves through the full cafeteria, one student after another stops him.
“I voted for you,” one says.
“I voted for you, 2 Chainz,” says another.
Ron Crowley is the site coordinator for custodial services at Buddy Taylor Middle School. He pushes a dust mop between lunches in the cafeteria. He supervises 10 custodians, but he won’t hesitate to tell you, “I am a working supervisor.”
“There is not a speck of trash on that floor,” said former BTMS principal Bobby Bossardet. “He takes a deep level of pride in what he does and how he does it.”
But taking pride in his job is not why Kenny Seybold, Flagler Schools' custodial services director, nominated Crowley for the national Rock Star Custodian Award, presented by the Academy of Cleaning Excellence.
It was for going beyond his job.
“The big thing about Ron is his service to others,” Seybold said. “Teachers, administrators, staff members, but more important, to students. He impacts their lives.”
Crowley is one of eight finalists for the award. The winner will be decided in an online vote, which is underway. Crowley and Donald Garner, of Hickory Tree Elementary School in St. Cloud, have been running neck and neck for the lead.
“One day he’s 1% ahead of me. The next day I’m 1% ahead of him,” Crowley said.
Crowley might have an advantage over the other finalists. He is a lifelong resident of Flagler County. He grew up and still lives in Bunnell. He graduated from Flagler Palm Coast High School in 1987. And he has been a custodian at Buddy Taylor for 27 years. So not only are the school’s current students voting for him, their older brothers and sisters, their parents and their stepparents are voting as well.
'The kids are drawn to him'
They all remember him, even if he needs help recalling a name or a face.
“I go to the grocery store, and they're saying, ‘Hey Mr. Ron,’ and I turn and look, and I say, ‘I don't know you.’ And they say, ‘Yes you to do. I went to Buddy Taylor Middle School 10 years ago, or 15 years ago,’” Crowley said.
So, he’ll get their name and the year they graduated, and he’ll look them up in the yearbook.
“I look at their picture, and their name, and I say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember.’ Because they change so much,” he said.
But kids are kids, Crowley said. They need a word of encouragement, a smile, or someone who will just listen.
“He’s an amazing person,” said BTMS Principal Cara Cronk. “Yes, he’s a Rock Star Custodian, but there’s so much more to him. He’s personally invested in our kids. The kids are drawn to him. He’s quiet, but his smile is so disarming. He laughs with them. H's so humble. He's genuine.”
When Bossardet, who is now the district’s assistant superintendent of academic services, was the school's principal, he asked Crowley to take part in the school’s leadership meetings. At first Crowley was reluctant.
“I said, ‘Ron, you are the eyes and ears of this school. You know the kids who haven’t slept, or are hungry. You’ve built relationships with teachers, staff, administrators. Why wouldn’t I want you at the leadership meetings?’” Bossardet recalled. “He’s much more than a custodian, he’s one of the best mentors we have in Flagler County.”
Cronk said the staff can throw anything at him. They hand him a list, and he makes it happen.
"He takes everything in stride. he has such pride in his work," she said.
“Everyone in the district should spend a day with Ron Crowley,” Seybold said.
From Mr. Ron to 2 Chainz
Two years ago one morning, rain poured down, soaking students as they walked or rode their bikes to school. Crowley and Pat King, the student services secretary, collected their outerwear and dried them in the school’s industrial dryer, Bossardet said.
“He’s much more than a custodian. He’s one of the best mentors we have in Flagler County.”
BOBBY BOSSARDET, Flagler Schools assistant superintendent of academic services
When BTMS had a program for students in Espanola and Bunnell, providing yard signs that read, “Changing the Game in Flagler Schools,” for students with grades above a 2.0 GPA and a plan for students below that threshold, Crowley knocked on doors asking parents and their students to attend the meeting.
“As we were leaving, we saw close to 40 or 50 signs out in the neighborhood,” Bossardet said. “The next morning, seeing the smile on Ron’s face, to know it would not be possible if we didn’t have someone from that neighborhood representing the school, knocking on doors. Nobody asked him to do it. You don’t have to ask Ron to do something.”
Crowley has a good head for dates. He was hired as a custodian at Buddy Taylor on Aug. 15, 1994. In 2006, he became the school’s site coordinator. Around 2013, the students gave Mr. Ron a new nickname – 2 Chainz – because they thought he looked like the rapper of that name, who, like Crowley, has dreadlocks.
The nickname stuck.
Parents are constantly coming up to him, wanting to meet 2 Chainz.
They say, “My kids talk about you all the time.”
“His influence is huge,” King said.
“He has such a good heart,” Cronk said. “He knows the struggles of some of these kids. His passion is to be a positive role model. He tells them, ‘You're here to get an education. Don't waste your opportunities. He has a lot of wisdom.”
Crowley doesn’t like to talk about himself. He’ll relate stories, like the woman who tapped him on the shoulder in Walmart to tell him that her twin boys used to come home, talking about him.
“She said they live two streets behind me, and her kids are doing good. One is in college and the other is trying to get his life together,” Crowley said. “I said, he’ll get it together. Just tell them I’m still at Buddy Taylor. If they ever need any positive advice, stop by and I’ll help them out as much as I can.”