Education feature: Receptionist watched school change over 31 years

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Bestella Gardner retired from Clovis schools after 31 years.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Bestella Gardner retired from the Clovis Schools after 31 years of working at the building that is now Lincoln-Jackson Family Center.

That doesn’t mean she’s done.

Gardner said Lincoln-Jackson is important to her and she hopes to continue to help at the center.

Gardner had more than one opportunity to move to another building in the school system, but she stayed at Lincoln-Jackson.

“I felt like that was my place to be there, to help the families and the kids. I loved the kids and the families,” she said. “That’s where my heart was.”

Gardner said she retired — her last official day was Friday — to give her time to be with her family and enjoy life while she’s healthy.

“I wasn’t unhappy or angry. There were no hard feelings. A time came in my life where I needed to move on,” she said. “I want to walk out the same way I came in. This is my time.”

Gardner plans to travel to see her grandson Jay Crockett play basketball at Texas Tech University, visit her home in Delhi, La., and visit her grandchildren in California.

During her 31 years with Lincoln-Jackson, Gardner saw the school through four changes in mission and eight principals. The building started as Lincoln-Jackson Elementary School, changed to the arts academy and then the building housed the 4-year-olds program. Last year, the center merged with Los Ninos Early Intervention Center.

“Everything was a big change, but they were all good changes,” Gardner said.

Over her tenure, Gardner said she tried to get parents and students involved in the school by organizing extracurricular activities.

What made Lincoln-Jackson her home, she said, was that the kids were in need.

“Our kids don’t have lots of things like other kids,” Gardner said. “Most of our kids had one parent. That makes a big difference in a kid’s life. We have to be there to pick up that slack and give them the love and support they needed. One of the things that made me stay there so long was that I felt I was needed.”

Gardner was known for coming in early, staying late, offering rides to parents and staff members, and giving her own money to parents who needed it for groceries.

Cynthia Gonzalez, principal at Lincoln-Jackson, said she’s planning to keep the face of the school around.

“So many people connect Lincoln-Jackson with Bestella, I think it’s important that she’s still part of that,” she said. “She cared about Lincoln-Jackson. It was more rooted than being a secretary.”

Gonzalez said she could see Gardner’s love for the families and students.

“You could just see that love, that caring, that goes with the outreach with the families. It’s not something you can pretend,” she said.

Gonzalez said it was wonderful coming in to work to Gardner’s smiling face.

“I felt welcomed going into Lincoln-Jackson. I knew that even if I wasn’t there, she’d be showing that Southern hospitality that she’s known for,” Gonzalez said.