Itasca middle school custodian recognized as one of the nation's 10 best
A custodian with ties to Itasca Elementary District 10 since he was a child now has the chance to win a contest with $35,000 worth of prizes to reward his hard work.
Franco Catalano, of District 10's F.E. Peacock Middle School, is a finalist in the national 2021 Custodian of the Year contest sponsored by Cintas Corp., which supplies uniforms, restroom supplies, first aid and safety equipment.
Catalano is one of 10 finalists from among 2,000 nominees nationwide. Public voting through April 16 at custodianoftheyear.com determines the winner.
"It feels great to know that the community has got my back," said Catalano, 39, who was nominated by school faculty. "They all recognize that I take great pride in my job."
The school has been part of Catalano's life since he was a child. Born and raised in Itasca, he attended F.E. Peacock from sixth through eighth grades, playing point guard on the school's basketball team. He now lives in Wheaton with his wife, Lauren, and dog, Alice.
Catalano began working as a custodian in 2015 at Raymond Benson Primary School, which is also is part of District 10.
There, Catalano said, he was treated like a rock star due to his friendly demeanor and willingness to help students with their studies.
He helped one second-grader, in particular, with studying for spelling tests, giving that student confidence and instilling a sense of pride in Catalano.
Many of the children he met at Raymond Benson moved up to Peacock Middle School, where he began working last year. In his workspace, Catalano has a photo of the Benson schoolchildren -- taken by the school's librarian for "Pajama Day" -- who now attend Peacock.
Catalano said he takes pride in ensuring the school's cleanliness. As Peacock's head custodian, he spends his hours with 10 co-workers deep cleaning every classroom and bathroom during the day, while other crews work at night to prevent further COVID-19 exposure. He can be seen cutting grass during the spring and summer, and shoveling and salting walkways during the winter so students and staff can arrive at school safely the next day.
When he's not keeping the school in good shape, he's encouraging students to get to class on time, helping them find lost items, or even working with them to reorganize their lockers to avoid jams.
As the district's schools resume some in-person learning, Peacock Principal Heidi Weeks credits Catalano's custodial work with helping make the COVID-19 transition much easier.
"He's always been so well-loved here in the district," Weeks said. "His pride and work ethic really help him stand out as a custodian. And the other custodians seeing him take pride in his work ethic has really motivated them to work harder as well, which is why they operate so effectively."
Those wishing to vote for Catalano can go to custodianoftheyear.com to submit their votes.