LARGO — When you ask a bookkeeper what the favorite part of his job is, you wouldn't expect him to reply, "The time I get to spend with the kids."
However, Charlie Derexson is no ordinary bookkeeper. Sure, his job at Ridgecrest Elementary includes ordering supplies and keeping track of fundraiser collections and field trip payments, but that's just the beginning.
"Mr. Derexson arrives early and stays late so he can lend a helping hand where needed," wrote Linda Broeske, family and community liaison at the school. She, along with assistant principal Lakisha Falana, nominated him for Pinellas County Support Person of the Year in October.
Last month, Derexson was named the 2011 winner. He was selected from 80 nominees and received $300 in prize money.
"In all honesty, he has dedicated his life to being an advocate for all children," Falana wrote. "Because of his passion for the welfare of every child, his dedication is contagious to many who have been fortunate to work alongside him."
Derexson started at the school in 2005 as a volunteer coordinator. He moved into his current position, officially called secretary/bookkeeper, in 2007. He called the recognition "a surprise and an honor.''
At the school, located on 119th Street N, he is responsible for creating the Ridgecrest chapter of All Pro Dads. The program, launched nationally by, among others, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy, meets once a month to promote positive relationships between students and the father figures in their lives.
He also created "Three for Me," which encourages parents to volunteer at least three hours of their time each month at the school.
And on March 2, expect to see Derexson walking the Ridgecrest halls in a Cat in the Hat costume during his Real Men Do Read Day, held on Dr. Seuss' birthday. The program provides a chance for students to observe men reading to classes.
Falana gave an example of how Derexson goes above and beyond: "I remember one day classes involved in a math activity needed to learn measurements so he dressed up as a character called Gallon Man. He was made up with parts that added up to a gallon. It was then that I realized no job was too big or too small for him."
He describes his work as his life's calling.
"But working in the school system was not my first job," he said. "I was in the restaurant business for 20 years before I came to Ridgecrest. It was when I was raising my stepsons, who had emotional challenges because of the family situation, I realized how important it was to take care of the kids who don't have a voice and might slip through the cracks."
He became active in the Pinellas County PTA, first serving as treasurer for Pinellas Central Elementary in 1996.
And as the boys finished up their schooling, he continued with the PTA volunteer work, rising to serve as president for the Pinellas County Council Parent Teacher Association during the 2008-09 school year. Currently, Derexson is vice president of leadership for the Florida PTA Board of Directors.
"It was through the PTA that I decided to apply for the job at Ridgecrest," Derexson said.
Whenever he can, Derexson tries to remind parents that they are their child's biggest advocate.
"Never be afraid to fight for your children's needs, and always, always show up for the parent-teacher conferences," he said.
And he has not forgotten the difficulties he had when juggling family-work schedules while raising his stepsons.
"I always like to remind teachers here how hard it is in today's society for people to get away from their workplace," he said. "The teachers need to e-mail, call, however they can to communicate, if parents cannot come to the school in the middle of the day."
Derexson will now represent the district in the state-level School-Related Employee of the Year program. Winners will be announced in the spring.