Originally published May 16, 2012
For 21 years, Jane Porcelli walked the halls of El Camino High School, her hands behind her back, her back held erect in the military bearing she developed years before in the Air Force.
As a campus control supervisor in charge of security, she knew everyone in the school and could instantly spot a kid who meant trouble or was in trouble.
“Jane was always tough on you,” said Chris Pola, 17, a senior, who got to know Porcelli when he was dealing with difficult family issues his freshman year. “She literally treated me like a son. If I ever did anything stupid, she let me know. If I ever did something great, she told me, ‘I’m so proud of you.’”
It seemed like Jane Porcelli was an immutable fixture at El Camino. But in the past two weeks, the campus has had to learn to go on without the beloved staffer who had been there longer than many of the teachers and administrators.
On May 2, at the age of 64, Porcelli suffered a heart attack at her home. She died in the hospital two days later, surrounded by her children and friends, including former El Camino Principal Adele Berg.
Now El Camino students, faculty and staff must adjust to the unthinkable: a school without Jane.
“She was by my side for eight hours a day for 22 years,” said Laura Janero, fellow campus control supervisor who knew Porcelli from the days when their children were at Skyline Elementary School together in the 1980s. “The hardest part of this job right now is not hearing her voice over the walkie-talkie.”
“She was kind of the mother hen of the entire school,” Lea Sanguinetti, a school counselor. “A lot of times, she’d take a student under her wing and walk them to class. She had words of wisdom. A lot of it was a no-nonsense approach to life, but kids really embraced that.”
Porcelli was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts and settled in Daly City in 1971 after serving in the Air Force. She had three children: Rich Porcelli, 38, a fire captain with the South San Francisco Fire Department; Dennis Porcelli, 36, a sheet metal worker in San Francisco; and Nancy Porcelli, 31, a Marine stationed near Reno. All three went to El Camino High School, where Jane Porcelli worked since 1991.
Porcelli made it a point to stop into teachers’ classrooms and connect with everyone at the school, Janero said. She and Sanguinetti made a ritual out of drinking Pepsi together every day, and she would do silly things like jump out of nowhere at Janero on the job.
Porcelli, Janero and Ron Haynes worked together running security for El Camino for over 20 years, an unusually long time for such a team to be together at a high school.
“It’s hard to believe that we’re not a trio anymore,” said Janero, who also stood by Porcelli’s side in the hospital. “We were like brothers and sisters, fought like brothers and sisters.”
Porcelli used to hassle Janero and Haynes about eating properly, even leaving Haynes notes telling him not eat unhealthy food.
She would ask, “Ron, are you supposed to be eating that?” Haynes recalled.
“'I bought it, didn’t I?’” Haynes would reply.
On the night of her heart attack, Porcelli spent the evening at the Basque Cultural Center as the honored guest of Kinza Tarig, a student in the AVID program (Advancement via Individual Determination). It was the annual appreciation dinner, and Tarig had chosen Porcelli as the staff member she wanted to honor.
“Jane just couldn’t believe it,” Janero said. “She was so excited.”
Porcelli had suffered from pulmonary issues, but it’s not known how they had affected her heart, according to her daughter, Nancy Porcelli. She had appeared pale and somewhat sickly in the weeks before her death, but would brush off any mention of it, according to Janero and Haynes.
When Porcelli returned to her San Bruno home that evening, she didn’t feel well and went to knock on a neighbor’s door, Janero said. She collapsed in the hallway.
“When I was in the hospital, we read the cards [students] wrote to her,” Nancy Porcelli said. “It was like, ‘Jane, I’ll take my hat off. I won’t sag my pants. Thanks for keeping us safe. You have to come to my graduation.’ It was heart wrenching.”
“She’ll be there because she’s in their hearts,” Nancy Porcelli said. “I hope that they remember that.”
Porcelli died on Friday night, and by Saturday, news had quickly spread among the students through Facebook and text messages.
“I just logged on, and there’s 10 statuses saying ‘Rest in Peace, Jane Porcelli,’ and at that point, I didn’t want to believe it,” Pola said.
Senior Adele Rios sent out a Facebook invitation for students to wear black on Monday to honor Porcelli. Nearly everyone did. During lunch, students shared their memories of her.
“I let the students know, if you didn’t know her, you missed out on meeting one of the most wonderful women in my life,” Pola said.
“Usually the kids are scared of the security guards. And I think they were,” Sanguinetti said. “Even though she could be the nicest, she could also be very firm. Kids knew, ‘Jane’s not joking today.’”
“She would yell across the courtyard at a student who might have been sagging his pants, and come across as this mean matron who was going to nail him,” Berg said. “And then the student would go up to her and say, ‘Oh, am I bad, Jane?’ and she would kind of look at him and say ‘Just make sure you don’t do that again.’ They would have an understanding that it was just a façade and she cared.”
“When I got my award for football, I don’t know how Jane found out, but she was sitting there, crossing her legs, tapping the chair,” Pola said. “She was like, ‘I had to find out from someone else? I had to find out from one of your coaches you won an award?’ I was like, ‘Jane, the day just started.’”
“I broke down that time because I always knew she would be there for me, but when she was there at that specific time and moment, it was like wow, she really means a lot to me,” Pola said.
People from all over have been posting messages online remembering Porcelli, Nancy Porcelli said. Her mother’s influence was wide.
“Even now, I went to a concert in Belmont when I was on leave in February,” Nancy Porcelli said. “This guy starts yelling at me, ‘Hey, hey! You’re Jane’s daughter!’”
“She would tell the students, ‘How do you expect me to care? I don’t have a heart,’” Janero said. “You know what? She had the biggest heart in our school.”
A memorial service for Jane Porcelli will be held Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. at St. Robert’s Church in San Bruno. She is survived by her children and her grandson, Dominic, 5.