Editor's note: This corrects the spelling of Katherine Infantino's last name.
COSTA MESA — With his 6-feet-5 frame, Tim Marsh towered over the preschool students — even while sitting down in one of the few adult-sized chairs.
As the chatty 4-year-olds sat at a horseshoe table digging into their breakfasts, Marsh helped them open their milk cartons, juice boxes and utensil bags — a far cry from his usual job.
"I know what he does! He works!" exclaimed Thor Allendorf, 4, pouring his milk into his cereal. "He works on all the buildings."
Marsh serves as the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's administrative director of facilities support services, but Thursday morning, he took a break from his job and shadowed Davis Magnet School preschool teacher Kim Diaz for an hour to help serve breakfast.
Marsh was one of more than 40 administrators, trustees, principals and various district officials to participate in the fourth annual ACE Classified Shadow Day, where they follow around their classified counterparts — bus drivers, custodians, officer managers, teacher's aides and lunch ladies — to see what they do and try it out.
"Classified employees really are the service industry of schools," said Cindy Means, president of the Newport-Mesa chapter of the California School Employees Assn. "We're here to educate the kids, and we do it in many ways."
The day is meant to remind district officials what classified employees do and how they contribute to students' education, Means said, adding that the day has made a positive impact.
For Marsh, who is also a classified employee, the day is a chance for him to go to the frontlines to see how things function and talk to people about the services he provides and how they are delivered.
"I think the whole organization benefits from that kind of thing occurring," he said.
Over at Newport Harbor High School, lead custodian Brian Cammaressi was shadowed for the first time.
He said he didn't sign up but was chosen by acting Supt. Paul Reed, who wanted to drive what looks like a smaller, white Zamboni — the Cyclone Surface Cleaner, or "gum sweeper."
Cammaressi said he wasn't nervous about showing the district's head honcho how he does his job and wanted to impress upon Reed how his team has gone green.
While Cammaressi explained the finer points of working the gum sweeper, Personnel Commissioners Katherine Infantino and Tom Henderson were in the school's kitchen shadowing Nutrition Services Supervisor Susan Lindsey.
Henderson, a Newport Harbor alumnus, said it was nice to go around the school and experience what the nutrition services staff does.
It was also chance to meet the people who interact with the students every day, Enfantino said.
"Kids can't do well in the classroom unless they have a foundation for the day, and the classified staff supports that," she said.