BRIDGEPORT — Francisca Aldana sits at a desk in Charles Holden Elementary School's front office, but her impact is felt throughout the 122-year-old building.
As the school's longtime clerk, she handles payroll, organizes field trips, dispatches substitute teachers and even cares for sick students when the school nurse is away.
"She's an amazing woman, and I think it's important that she get recognized," said Konstantinos "Dean" Patsiopoulos, principal at the school at 1104 W. 31st St.
A Bridgeport native, Aldana, 58, started at the school as a bilingual teacher's aide in the special education department, where she worked for 13 years before transitioning into the role of school clerk.
All told, she's been at Holden for 24 years.
"There's been a lot of changes, but they've been changes for the better," she said.
She credits Patsiopoulos for helping spruce up the school, including painting the hallways and classrooms and building a science lab. She also said she couldn't do her job well without her front-office colleagues — fellow clerk Rose Gonzalez and Assistant Principal Chris Liberos.
"It's about all of us. We work together to do what has to be done," she said.
Patsiopoulos, meanwhile, credits her for helping him find firm footing as he takes the reins in his second year as principal. Before being named principal, he was a social studies teacher at Holden.
"She's a go-to person. There's a level of trust with her. You can put tasks in her hand, and she can just get the job done," he said.
Aldana, who now lives near Midway Airport, battled a recent health scare that kept her sidelined for two weeks — by far her longest absence from the school, she said.
That she was back at work so quickly is a testament to her commitment to the school, Patsiopoulos said.
Before getting up to leave his office, where he'd surprised Aldanas with the news he selected her for DNAinfo Chicago's "Teacher of the Week" feature, Patsiopoulos seemed to sense Aldana would be humbled by the designation.
And she was — so much so that she almost declined the interview.
"Modesty," Patsiopoulos said, patting Aldana on her shoulder while pointing to a reporter. "Make sure you put that down."