Best school employees in Northwest Philly: Kim Birkmire, Green Woods Charter

 Kim Birkmire is Green Woods Charter School's beloved office and transportation manager. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Kim Birkmire is Green Woods Charter School's beloved office and transportation manager. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

When Green Woods Charter School opened its 60,000 square-foot campus in January, the project that doubled as a brownfields-reclamation mission gave hundreds of students a brand-new place to call their educational home. 

The charter school’s initial class brought 465 students to that new location off Domino Lane near Ridge Ave. The student population has since grown to 640 kids in kindergarten through the eighth grade.

What that’s meant is traffic and safety concerns as students arrive and leave the school. It makes Kim Birkmire’s job visibly important two times a day, five times a week.

The Green Woods office and transportation manager’s efforts are so appreciated that dozens of nominations poured in when NewsWorks asked readers to name “the best school employees in Northwest Philadelphia.”

You can see glowing excerpts in the related “What they’re saying about Kim Birkmire” story.

“I’m humbled and shocked,” said Birkmire during an interview in school CEO Jean Wallace’s conference room when told of the outpouring of support. “I’m also excited that this gives Green Woods a chance to tell people that everyone here works really, really hard on behalf of the children.”

Her path here

Before the new location was built, Green Woods students attended classes in the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (until 2012), then moving into two former parish schools in Manayunk.

Birkmire was with Green Woods long before the ribbon cutting, volunteering at the front desk where she “had to make sure my kids thought I was invisible” since sons Stephen and Brian were students there.

Asked to join the school’s Board of Trustees more than six years ago, she helmed small-scale fundraising efforts like hosting a Bingo night (“Every little bit helps!” she explained) while serving as a liasion to the PTA.

Before long, the Roxborough resident was brought on staff. She’s since developed a warm relationship with Wallace.

“She does so much more that people couldn’t even imagine,” said Wallace.

That’s an understatement.

Birkmire’s job responsibilities include “supervising daily arrival and dismissal for students, handling all school-bus transportation issues  (i.e. discipline), crossing guard responsibilities when Mrs. Monroe is absent, Act 48 credit reporting for teachers/administrators, maintaining personnel files, entering information on the website calendar, compiling the weekly bulletin and monthly calendar, answering the phones and receiving visitors, ordering school supplies, organizing monthly fire drills [and] coordinate curriculum.”

It is the bright vest she wears to handle those transportation responsibilities that makes her most visible, though.

What Kim does

By 7:55 a.m. each day, Birkmire dons that vest atop the hill where the Green Woods driveway meets to help the school’s crossing guard get children across an often recklessly driven Domino Lane safely.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that the school is still awaiting a flashing “School Zone” sign that could urge drivers to slow down, one that they said has been promised by city officials but never delivered.

“How many drivers have given you the finger?” asked Wallace of Birkmire jokingly, since quite a few have done so.

Another hurdle to that facet of her job is the fact that the school’s population has increased exponentially, but the School District said there’s no money through which additional buses can be provided. (Four buses arrive at the same time each day, with three others coming in in a scattered schedule.)

That means more parents dropping their kids off and more kids walking across Domino Lane. It’s also meant having to asked families who can make other arrangements to cede students’ seats on the bus to those who cannot.

None of that seems to get Birkmire down, though.

Yes, the flashing lights and extra buses would make her job easier (you might want to get on that, people who haven’t lived up to their promises), but it’s a job she embraces nonetheless.

“Our biggest priority,” Birkmire said, “is making sure our kids are safe from when they get to school in the morning until they get home at the end of the day.”

And judging by the reactions of parents, students and even neighbors, Birkmire makes all that happen without ever letting on about just how difficult it all is.

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