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‘Someone’s Gotta Do It’: A Day in the Life of an LAUSD Custodian

East Los Angeles, CA – Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

Welcome to our new column “Someone’s Gotta Do It,” in which we strive to recognize L.A.'s underappreciated workers and highlight their stories. For our first installment, we check out a custodian in East Los Angeles who has been beautifying high schools every damn day since 2004.

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t’s 3:30 PM on a Tuesday afternoon at Esteban Torres High School in East Los Angeles. Not a soul is in sight, with classes having let out for the day half an hour earlier. Edna Logan, 60, enters the first floor boys' restroom of the Social Justice Leadership Academy – one of five academies within Torres High. “Hello, anybody in here? Yoohoo?” she calls out into the restroom doorway. Confirming she is alone, Edna enters the restroom and begins to clean the waterless urinals in two rounds, using jugs filled with water and apple cider vinegar to clear away any lingering stench. 

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

She inspects the bathroom stalls for tagging, and explains that all stalls have a special painted coating that makes it easier to wipe away any notes left behind from “future artists.” Edna proceeds to clean off tagging found on the restroom stalls. Some tagging on an adjacent wall does not come off so easily and will require further attention later on from her colleague, Al. 

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

Edna scrubs the toilet bowls clean, wipes down the sinks, sweeps, and gives a final mop of the floor. She then moves onto the adjacent girls' restroom, where the stench is not as stale, but the floors are completely littered with used toilet paper and soiled tampons. Edna repeats the process, cleaning off any tagging from the walls, scrubbing the toilet bowls clean, wiping down the sinks, and giving the floors a mop down. She places the mop back onto her cleaning cart, and proceeds to push it down the hall and through the exit doors of the Academy, these two bathrooms only the tip of the iceberg to her daily eight-hour shift as a custodian of Torres High, and all in a day’s work for $16.22-$18.77 per hour. 

Every weekday during the 2:30 PM to 11:00 PM timeframe, Edna is responsible for cleaning approximately 18 classrooms, 12 bathrooms, a staff lounge, and four rehearsal studios for the dance, theatre, and music programs. 

Of the 600,000 students enrolled within the Los Angeles Unified School District, over 19,500 experienced homelessness during the last school year. Additionally, over 8,500 lived in foster care. For any student, school can be the one source of stability in their daily life. This is why the work of people like Edna Logan is so vital to school needs. Edna is part of the integral yet often overlooked class of workers within public schools known as Buildings and Grounds workers. 

A Day in the Life

Every weekday during the 2:30 PM to 11:00 PM timeframe, Edna is responsible for cleaning approximately 18 classrooms, 12 bathrooms, a staff lounge, and four rehearsal studios for the dance, theatre, and music programs. 

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

Torres High opened in 2010 and is also home to YOLA, the Youth Orchestra program run by the L.A. Philharmonic. Edna’s responsibilities cover only one of the five academies at Torres High, whose total current enrollment is 1,915 students, which breaks down to 300-400 per academy. There are four total custodians currently employed at Torres High, one daytime and three overnight. All of them have split responsibilities to keep the entire school clean. A hefty burden as-is, and a continued challenge thanks to recession-era budget cuts that occurred throughout the entirety of LAUSD during the years of 2007-2014, and specifically at Torres High back in 2011. Cuts that have yet to be restored. 

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

Weekend work is also not a factor to custodian life because weekends mean overtime, and overtime assignments are not generally given to the B&G workers of Torres High, a reality no doubt due to budget constraints. And if a colleague calls out sick? Theoretically, a substitute custodian will be sent, but more likely that day’s work will either be picked up by the other custodians or more realistically, will not get done at all. On this particular afternoon, Edna was hustling to complete two days’ worth of work into one shift because the day prior had been a federal holiday.

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

“What’s top priority is restrooms because of the health issue. So I take time to make sure the restrooms are right because people can get ill, sick, you know? Can’t let that happen.” There was one rare instance “a long time ago” where Edna was the only custodian to show up for her shift at Torres because all of her colleagues called out sick. She did as many restrooms as she could, secured the gates, and left. Having to clean the entire school by herself that night, she was unable to tend to any classrooms. 

No matter the task, it is clear that she not only takes pride in her work yet also completes each duty with intention and love.

Outside of restrooms, specific classroom responsibilities are to pick up the trash and sweep and mop the floors. The once-per-week sweeping and mopping schedule for each classroom is quite apparent. In certain rooms, Edna shakes her head while looking at the dirty floors, expressing the sentiment that she wishes there were more time and resources available to give these classrooms a thorough cleaning.

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

In addition to classrooms, Edna is responsible for daily sweeping and mopping of the hallways of the multi-level Academy, as well as tending to the cleanliness of its administrative offices and “Teacher Collaboration Room,” the first-floor lounge for teachers of the Humanitas Academy which also doubles as the counselors’ office. Being a female working alone at night on a big high school campus, the obvious question of safety arises. When asked if she’s ever felt unsafe by herself during a shift, Edna simply responds, “No. I have faith.”

Cleanliness Is Next to Selflessness

During Edna’s shift, there were a lot of unexpected discoveries. From the restrooms that are intentionally kept locked and closed off from student use because the school does not have the resources and manpower to clean them on a regular basis, sometimes leaving the boys without a restroom on one floor or the girls without a restroom on the other, or sometimes, no restroom at all, or others where only one stall is in service. 

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

To the all-gender staff restroom found in the Humanitas Academy, the only all-gender restroom within the entire high school or the handful of teachers working well past the five o’clock hour. But most outstanding was Edna’s hustle. Her good energy and innately warm disposition remained apparent throughout the entirety of the eight-hour shift and despite the task. She could be dusting off the exterior doormat of the Academy’s second floor, mopping up a classroom, or scraping off gum from the hallway floor or a spit wad stuck to a wall. No matter the task, it is clear that she not only takes pride in her work yet also completes each duty with intention and love. 

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

“I know how necessary and important it is. Because children need to have a clean, decent environment to be able to learn. I grew up like that. I didn’t grow up in a filthy classroom, filthy school, and so, I know how important it is for them to be able to be motivated and be able to concentrate. So although I’m not the teacher who is writing on the blackboard and handing out the lessons, I’m making it possible for them to be comfortable, for them to be functional to able to do that. So I find pleasure in knowing that my contribution is an important piece of the pie, which is the success of the child’s education.”

One young female student mentored by Edna would later come back to thank her for her encouragement and guidance, sharing the news that not only did the experience help the student find enough inspiration and focus to improve her grades but also that she had successfully gotten into college.

It’s a refreshingly spirited outlook from someone who has been working for LAUSD in various capacities since 1989, and in her current role at Torres since 2010. Edna is an active union member of the SEIU Local 99, the Education Workers Union, and is even part of its bargaining team and is a steward for her school site, keeping colleagues aware of all union-related events and information. 

Life After-school

Outside of her professional life, Edna takes joy in being the Director of the Adult Choir for The Life Center Church of God in Inglewood, her place of worship since infancy and since its original incarnation in East L.A. Music has always been a natural part of Edna’s life, “I started singing when I started talking is how the story goes.” On the job, she hums various melodies. Nothing in particular, “Sometimes I make up melodies, it’s just a habit.” Later, when asked if she would have ever pursued a career in music, Edna candidly states, “I’m a good backup singer, I’m not the one that stands out…. If I wasn’t a custodian, I still would’ve worked in children’s, I’m sure working with kids in some aspect. I’m sure. ‘Cuz that just came, it just, you know it’s just second nature to me. Probably.” 

Inglewood, CA - Nov. 17: Edna Logan sings during Sunday mass at The Life Center Church of God. (Brian Feinzimer)
Inglewood, CA - Nov. 17: Edna Logan sings during Sunday mass at The Life Center Church of God. (Brian Feinzimer)

In a conversation we would have two weeks later, she also was sure to emphasize a “correction” she wanted to make to her original interview: That while she loves Stevie Wonder, her favorite singer is actually her niece, Tiffany Binion Mangum.

Inglewood, CA - Nov. 17: Edna Logan sings during Sunday mass at The Life Center Church of God. (Brian Feinzimer)
Inglewood, CA - Nov. 17: Edna Logan sings during Sunday mass at The Life Center Church of God. (Brian Feinzimer)

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Edna worked as a music instructor at different private schools in the L.A. area before a friend suggested that she look into opportunities within the public school system.  Having devoted the entirety of her professional life to the service of others, it is no surprise then that when asked about any future career plans, Edna instead says she looks forward to traveling with her husband, who retired this year. Her ideal destination? Her husband’s home country of Belize. And Hawaii. Though even in hypothetical retirement, she already plans on giving to others, expressing the hope to “help some elderly, maybe read to some children at the school,” and to pass on her love of cooking and baking by teaching young girls to do the same. While she has no biological children, Edna considers her nieces and nephews her children because she helped to raise them, at one point even learning sign language through courses taken at a local community college in order to communicate with her deaf nephew, who was living with her full-time.

That’s pretty much it. That’s what I do.” One day down. Three more [in the week] to go.

It’s around 7:00 PM when Edna decides it’s time to take a lunch break. She sits in the staff lounge located across the campus in G Building, and enjoys some leftover homemade ribs grilled by her husband the night before, purple grapes, a biscuit, and lemon sour cream pound cake for dessert—a special surprise baked for the L.A. Taco team by Edna herself. 

Inglewood, CA - Nov. 17: Edna Logan sings during Sunday mass at The Life Center Church of God. (Brian Feinzimer)
Inglewood, CA - Nov. 17: Edna Logan sings during Sunday mass at The Life Center Church of God. (Brian Feinzimer)

Refueled and ready to get back at it 30 minutes later, Edna heads back across campus and cleans nonstop for the next hour and a half. Her other wildly important expectation every night is to make sure every restroom, classroom, office, and building is also secured and locked for the night.

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

There was a time several years ago where in addition to their daily janitorial and custodial duties, the custodians of Torres High were also tasked with mentoring students as part of a school community service program. The goal of the program was to help at-risk students renew their focus and get their studies back on track. A goal which the school felt could be achieved by having these students complete “community service,” assisting custodial staff. One young female student mentored by Edna would later come back to thank her for her encouragement and guidance, sharing the news that not only did the experience help the student find enough inspiration and focus to improve her grades but also that she had successfully gotten into college.

East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)
East Los Angeles, CA - Nov. 12: Edna Logan, custodial staff at Esteban E. Torres High School. (Brian Feinzimer)

It is just shy of 11:00 PM when Edna returns to the B&G staff lounge, located in a private first-floor space towards the rear of G Building. Her daily duties within the building now checked off and her work duties as a whole officially done for the day, Edna brings her shift to a comical close by mimicking the famous words of Porky the Pig,  "‘I believe, I believe, I believe that’s all folks.’ That’s pretty much it. That’s what I do.”

One day down. Three more to go.

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