Receptionist calls the piecing of schedules her ‘daily Sudoku puzzle’


D'niya Little-Segers

Teachers’ schedules are constantly changing. Central’s main office receptionist Tracey Cowart has to manage substitution and requests for leave of every teacher at Central.

Claire Yung, Online Managing Editor

Starting the day off at 6:30 in the morning, Central’s main office receptionist Tracey Cowart opens the front office door and turns on the lights. The first task she does is print out a sheet of which substitute teacher needs are filled and which aren’t. She hangs the list up as part of a safety procedure in case of a fire, before getting started on what she calls her daily Sudoku puzzle.

“That’s what I do every morning, figure out which teachers are out and what classes they need covered,” Cowart said. “It’s kind of like figuring out a puzzle, so I call it my Sudoku puzzle.”

Cowart has been Central’s receptionist for the past two years and part of her role is being the coordinator for substitute teachers. Throughout the rest of the day, she answers phone calls for attendance, adjusts schedules if a teacher has to leave and records the information on a series of lists.

“She’s often the first person that people encounter when they’re new to Naperville Central,”  Principal Jackie Thornton said. “[All of the front office staff] are wonderful stewards for Naperville Central and really exemplify what I think makes Central so special. They are warm, they’re welcoming, they’re positive. Mrs. Cowart certainly is the front line of that.”

Oftentimes Cowart may learn at the last minute that a teacher will be absent, so fitting together the substitute schedules can be complicated, Thornton said.

“She’s very open and positive in her communication and her problem solving skills are excellent,” Thornton said. “She works with department secretaries in that often last minute juggling of how are we going to fill these classes. She does it all with grace and I’ve never seen her have a negative moment, so I just really appreciate her.”

Before Cowart became the main office secretary at Central, she worked at Madison Junior High School with special needs students for three years,  and before that she was a substitute within District 203 for 19 years.

“When this position opened up, I wanted to look at Central because one of my children graduated from here and my husband graduated from here,” Cowart said. “I just heard great things about Central and I really wanted to be in the front office so I interviewed for the position, and it’s a  fun job. I really enjoy it.”

Cowart’s favorite part about working at Central is getting to have lunch with her daughter Jennifer Dotson, the College and Career Center Coordinator. Aside from that, Cowart also treasures the community.

“She does a lot to contribute to the community we’ve built at Central and especially in the main office,” Thornton said. “She’s warm, friendly and caring. She often is organizing birthday celebrations, little fun breakfast or lunch events, and she’ll often just leave us a little basket of cookies. Somebody like Mrs. Cowart makes being at Central a great experience and is why people come back to help sub.”

Cowart enjoys getting to meet the different substitutes as she helps manage their schedules and check them in.

“They all have different stories that are super interesting,” Cowart said. “A lot of them carry a book for their planning period and I’m a big reader so it’s fun to go back and forth with titles.”

While Cowart does miss working with her special education students, eight of them graduated from Central, and she still occasionally sees them around school.

“I do miss working with students,” she said. “But I get to see [them], I get to see staff, I get to see parents and admin, everyone.”