What started as an after-school job in high school led to a long and rewarding career for warehouse manager Todd Zielke, who is now in his 32nd year with Cherry Creek Schools. Zielke’s work also led to the evolution of a central warehouse and distribution system that ensures students, staff and schools always have the essential educational supplies they need.
As a student at Aurora’s Rangeview High school, Zielke worked evenings on a custodial crew cleaning Cherry Creek schools and other facilities, including the warehouse. The warehouse foreman at that time encouraged him to apply for a part-time job. He started the day after his high school graduation in 1985 and never looked back.
“I’m really proud to work here in the warehouse. We’ve done a lot of good things,” Zielke said.
Zielke worked his way up from part-time to full-time, to lead warehouseman in 1998 to warehouse manager in 1999. Along the way, he learned every aspect of warehouse operations and witnessed dramatic changes in the district.
“The biggest challenge was trying to keep up with the growth,” Zielke said.
When he started, the district had 33 schools and 26,549 students, compared to the 60 schools and nearly 55,000 students it has today.
“As the district grew, I grew,” he said.
Over the years, the warehouse added staff, though the whole team is still just 12 people. They added equipment: hand trucks, forklifts and delivery trucks to handle both inter-district mail and regular deliveries of essential school supplies like copier paper, pens and pencils, Kleenex and toilet paper.
Zielke and his team found new ways to utilize the existing space in the 29,760 square foot warehouse, especially when the district adopted the Full Option Science System (FOSS) curriculum, which utilizes hundreds of large science kits that are stored in the warehouse and rotated to all elementary schools every few weeks.
“That was challenging, just to make that happen, to fit it in the building,” Zielke said. “We were able to do it without expanding the building.”
That was accomplished by extending the warehouse storage racks up, rather than out.
The technology the department uses has also changed. The warehouse now handles central receiving for the entire district, digitally scans packing slips for transparency and uses a web-based inventory control system. The improvements have helped the department better fulfill its mission.
“Our goal is to provide excellent customer service in a cost-effective manner,” Zielke said. “Technology has really, really helped us. It allows us to be more efficient. We’re not going to hold up learning. We’re here for the students.”
Zielke says his team members and the teamwork and communication they display on a daily basis are the reasons for the department’s success. They are also what make it hard for him to think about retirement, which is looming in the not-too-distant future. While he’s looking forward to new challenges and more time with family, he can look back with a sense of satisfaction. Even after 32 years, he says he would do it all again.
“Absolutely. It’s a great place to work.”