NEWTOWN SQUARE–Most days he's out of the house by 6 a.m., latest. Other days, you may be able to find him late at night working at Marple Newtown High School cleaning and fixing things after school hours.
Andrew Dougherty, 37, an 11-year Broomall resident, has been working behind the scenes at Marple Newtown School District for the past three and a half years. He started as a long-term substitute working the second shift as a custodian and eventually working his way up to building supervisor at the high school.
Fixing Things is in His Blood
Since he can remember, Dougherty was always taking things apart and putting it back together again.
"I was always hands on as a kid," recalls Dougherty. "I always liked toying with stuff."
His father, a school teacher, and his mother had seven children together and lived off of his father's single income. With a big family living off of his father's teacher's salary, there wasn't much wiggle room to hire someone when something was broken. And so, his father also wore the hat of contractor, plumber, etc. But it wasn't long before Dougherty also picked it up.
"My mom told me when I was about 3, I grabbed some tools and took the rocking chair apart and sat there for hour putting it together, and I started doing that with other things," remembers Dougherty.
Whether it's on site at the high school for his job or at home, Dougherty is still using his hands to fix things. Dougherty says he's done quite a few renovations in his Broomall home–from installing the kitchen to redoing the basement.
"I've always enjoyed this–if I wasn't doing this, I wouldn't know what I would be doing," says Dougherty.
For the Sake of the Children
Dougherty was working out of the same landscape and construction business in Media for 16 years until his child care situation changed, leaving his two children unsupervised during the day. That's when Dougherty started to look for another job, preferably working the second shift.
"When the child care situation changed, we knew we didn't want to put the kids in day care and we felt that this was the best solution," says Dougherty.
Dougherty, narrowly avoiding a trend taking over American homes, set aside the traditional 9 to 5 work to take second shift work in order to watch his children during the day.
“In 2009 and 2010, more than 18 percent of men in their prime working years were idle, the highest proportion since 1948, when the federal government began tracking that statistic,” writes Don Peck, in his book Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It.
Battling the poor economic environment and the increasing unemployment rate, in 2008, Dougherty found out that the Marple Newtown School District was looking for a second-shift custodian. Though he took about a 50 percent pay cut going to the district and worked late at night, Dougherty says he wouldn't have changed his decision.
"In the beginning, it was hard doing the night shift," admits Dougherty. "But it was good for the kids because I could be home with the kids. That was my sole purpose."
For two years, Dougherty pulled double duty, tending to the kids at home during the day and then heading into work when the sun set. It wasn't until last year when the construction at the high school really started picking up that the district asked him to work more hours during the day and night. Though it was a challenge at first, Dougherty believes "it worked out" now that both his children are in school, one at Russell Elementary School and another in preschool.
Destined to Be in School
Though Dougherty says he never imagined working in the school system–it was only a matter of time before he did.
His father was a school teacher; his brother and his wife are both school teachers; his wife is a teacher at Paxon Hollow Middle School; his sister is a teaching assistant in the nearby district of Garnet Vally; and another brother's wife holds a teaching degree.
He began working a second-shift job to simply take care of his children during the day and never imagined that three years later he would become the school's building supervisor.
"I was just hoping for three to four years of night work, but I never dreamed that it would turn out like this," shares Dougherty. "I've actually grown to like the school district quite a bit. I'm very, very happy here."
In the midst of responding to immediate things that need to be fixed, phone calls, emails and work orders throughout the day, Dougherty says one of his favorite parts is interacting with the students and teachers especially when there's an event happening at the school. "That's always nice."
And despite his new supervisory role, Dougherty occasionally still works the night shift when they're short-handed and prides himself in still being "hands on."
Dougherty says he doesn't see himself leaving the school system anytime soon and will continue to "work my way up the ranks–that's my goal someday." But until then, Dougherty is doing what he does best as Marple Newtown High School's "Mr. Fix It," a role he never dreamed of doing three years ago.
Editor's note: This article also appeared in the Huffington Post's Dispatches section on Nov. 5.