BROOKSVILLE — Charles "Kojack" Burnett's main goal every single day seems to be making everybody he meets happy. That may be part of the reason he was selected as this year's Hernando County school district School Related Employee of the Year.
The other part is the work he does as Eastside Elementary School's head custodian.
"I nominated him," said the school's assistant principal, Heather McCarty. "He is just phenomenal, and he has a heart of gold. He truly does. And he is very involved in the community. I have seen him do things for people, help people tirelessly and he always says, 'I just want to make people happy' and he means it."
Mr. Kojack, as he is known by the students, has been at Eastside for 22 years and has been head custodian for 15. He has been the school-level School Related Employee of the Year three times — in 2002, 2007 and again this year.
He says his nickname, "Kojack," comes from the fact that "too many people can't say Charles, so you have to go with something else."
As for his duties, he said No. 1 is safety. His job, he explained, is to keep things working perfectly, maintaining the complex as a good working environment.
He gets up in the morning, he said, to go to the school and make people happy. He confesses he cannot do it alone. He works with other staffers as a team and has another source of assistance.
"You've got to have the Greater Being to help," he said.
Rounding out the man is his community work. He is a member of NAACP, South Brooksville Development, the Black Educator Caucus and Frederick Kelly Elks Lodge 1270 in Brooksville. He is the first African-American president of the Hernando County school workers union and is also involved in local politics.
A person can't work someplace for 22 years without some anecdotes, and Burnett has a few of those. His most memorable story was the time a student somehow got a shoe stuck in a tree. Burnett climbed the tree and retrieved the shoe, but the branch broke, and he fell and broke his arm. He still carries the scar.
But that's okay with Mr. Kojack.
"I wanted to make sure that child went home with that shoe," he said.
"He's a good guy," McCarty said.