Donna Colello, who has worked as a custodian in Portland schools for 25 years, is a finalist in a national Custodian of the Year contest. She is seen using an electrostatic sprayer to disinfect lockers at Ocean Avenue Elementary School on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Ocean Avenue School Principal Beverly Stevens knows there’s someone she can always rely on to solve any problem at the school, whether it’s how to install new projectors or figure out how to keep students socially distanced in the hallway.

“She’s amazing. She’s my go-to person,” Stevens said of Donna Colello, the school’s head custodian.

Recently, Stevens and other staff in Portland Public Schools came together to nominate Colello for a national Custodian of the Year award in recognition of her hard work and years of dedication. Cintas Corporation, the Ohio-based company that sponsors the award, announced this week that Colello is one of 10 finalists out of more than 2,000 nominations from around the country.

“I’m so honored,” said Colello, who started working in the district 25 years ago. “I am humbled. It’s been a long 25-year road and I just love Portland. I love the people in it.”

Colello, 51, was a single mother when she first took the job as custodian in Portland Public Schools. She said the support of the community allowed her to raise her daughter and find professional fulfillment. As head custodian at Ocean Avenue, Colello oversees a team of three other custodians who she said work together like family. She arrives at school every day around 6 a.m. and helps welcome students to the building.

“She knows all the kids,” Stevens said. “She welcomes them by name. She’s here in the cafeteria and if anything drops in the hallways, it’s cleaned up immediately so there is no risk to any child. She’s always ready to keep the building safe and clean for kids, and she involves the kids. If they want to help she’s always willing to include them in a safe way.”

Custodians around the country are facing one of their most challenging years with the coronavirus pandemic, and Colello said that’s true for her and her staff.

“It’s a crazy year,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of staff shortages. Custodians try to support one another by filling in where they can. The support from staff, especially here and including the children, they see what I do. They appreciate what I do and I get them involved. Kids love to help. They pick up their pencils. They pick up their crayons because we’re a whole team.”

Members of the public can vote for Colello online at through April 16. The winner of the contest receives a $10,000 cash prize, $5,000 in products and services for his or her school and a training and development package for their school estimated at $20,000.

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