Saturday, February 15, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: Transition, ACES, and "Rainbow Bunkers"

August of 1999 was a month of waiting and wondering. What would it be like to be an itinerant employee? How would I like not being "tied" to one school? Would the teachers I'd be working with like me? I'd been doing preschool straight for the past 13 years. How would I help resource teachers? Lots of anxiety!

When school started, the area coordinators, education specialists, and the special ed director all met to discuss school assignments and other sped business. These would be regular meetings and were referred to as ACES meetings (Area Coordinators, Ed Specialists).
That was a clever name and the meetings were great. Everyone brought problems to the table and discussed them. If new professional development opportunities were available, we discussed how to deliver the training information or who should attend.

At that first meeting I found out which schools I would have and provide support to. They included six schools that Susan B., one of our coordinators, referred to as the "Rainbow Bunkers", rainbow because they all had rainbows painted on one side, and bunkers because of their low concrete designs. During the 1980's and early 1990's, many of the older elementary schools in Spokane were torn down and replaced with these schools. All of these schools were identical in shape and size and only varied with different colored roofs and could be mirror images of each other on the inside. Indeed, I'd already spent three years in one of these schools when I'd taught at Woodridge. These schools are about as ugly as you can get and have all sorts of ventilation problems that cause people to get very ill. Over the years the heating and ventilation systems in all of these schools have had to be replaced. Nasty.

Having six out of my seven schools be the Rainbow Bunker style school wasn't that bad except that five of these were all on the upper northeast side of the district. When I drove to one of these buildings, got out and started to go inside, I'd have to pause and think, "Where am I?" Frequently, until I got to know my way around, I would turn around, go back outside, and look at the name on the building to make sure I was where I really needed to be!

Now the real work began. I started by going to each of my schools and introducing myself to the principals and special education teachers I would be supporting. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and two of my schools, Logan and Lincoln Heights actually had preschool programs in them. The teacher at Lincoln Heights would let me come and hang out for awhile when I was really missing preschool! Things started slowly partly because I wasn't really sure what to do, and partly because in a few of my buildings, I was replacing an education specialist, Susan R., who had been doing the job a long time and really knew her stuff! I have to say, I felt pretty inadequate to begin with!

And then the dreams started. To this day, fifteen years later, I continue to have these dreams. They go something like this: It is nighttime and I am looking at this big brick school building from the outside. Inside is all lit up and this school looks like an elementary school I attended in fifth grade. But in my dream it is Reid and I am going inside and then walking down the hall. All the rooms are brightly lit and parents are walking with their children. It seems like this must be conferences or a carnival or something fun. I walk down to the preschool room and walk inside. Kay is there but she looks confused. I say, "Is it time for Circle? What is our theme? Did I forget to do lesson plans?" Kay looks at me and says, "You don't work here anymore. We have a new teacher. You work in Spokane." I am devastated and as I turn to leave, the Reid teachers all close their doors. I am standing alone in the hall.
Next week: Yes, ed specialists ARE that smart!