Saturday, April 26, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: Nobody starts the school year off like Central Valley!

As the summer of 2011 wound down and I got ready for the new school year in my new job, I was excited and a little scared at the same time. At almost 60, was this the right thing to do? But I knew it would be a fresh start hopefully with teachers and students I could offer new ideas and strategies to.

Now the Central Valley school district does something I had never experienced in all my years in the education field. They host the most amazing, uplifting, and somewhat nostalgic opening to the school year I've ever seen. To me it is reminiscent of bygone years and simpler times; something that might have brought us all together in the 1950s.

On one of the days before the school year starts, all staff are invited to one of the high schools (they alternate between University high and Central Valley high each year). To start the morning off, Spokane Teachers Credit Union and the school board supply fruit, pastries and coffee, have tickets to fill out for winning gift baskets, etc. You have a chance to wander around, catch up with your fellow teachers, and meet new friends.

After about an hour of eating and visiting, this huge group of teachers and staff move to the gym. In the gym, the high school band, in full dress uniform, plays for everyone. Such amazing talent! And as we gather, it is such a treat to hear them play! When everyone is inside and the band has played a couple more songs, the American flag lowers from the gymnasium ceiling, and we all stand as the band plays the national anthem. One year a young very talented girl of about 11 sang a solo of the anthem. If this doesn't get your patriotic juices flowing, nothing will! It also always brings a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat, and I wonder if I will be able to get myself back together!

The next part of this opening to the school year consists of inspirational talks, videos, PowerPoint shows, etc. by school board members and district administration, including the superintendent. There is always a theme: this year it was "What's Up With That?" This was crazy fun! How often do you see your district administrators dress up in costumes, sing, dance, and put on skits? And boy, I have to say, our HR person really has a great voice! This was so much fun and afterwards almost everyone is in a good mood and ready to start the school year. The only challenging thing is getting out of the parking lot! That can take a looooong time. But hey, why not just chat with a few more people while you're waiting?

I will miss these openings to the school year. Even though I've only attended three, I've enjoyed them so much that I'm wondering; do you think anyone will notice if I come
and join in the fun next year?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: "You'll feel like you've come home."

After the 2010-2011 school year in Spokane, I was emotionally exhausted and wasn't sure I could return in the fall. But at this time, my husband and I had not yet consulted with a financial planner or attended any retirement seminars, so even though I was on the Plan 1 retirement system, we weren't sure I could retire.

Not long after the year ended, I got a call from Lyn, a woman I worked with in Spokane. She told me that there was an elementary learning specialist opening in Central Valley. She had looked at the position and she said it was essentially the same job I'd been doing for the past 12 years. I was excited and thanked Lyn for letting me know. And because the Spokane area is not really all that big, it turned out that a few people I'd worked with before, in both Cheney and Spokane, were now working in Central Valley as well.

One of those people was Geri Hammond. Geri and I had both been education specialists in Spokane before she became a coordinator for elementary special education programs. She was now the elementary coordinator in Central Valley. I decided to get in touch with her and see if she thought this would be a good job for me to apply for.

Geri was very encouraging. She said, "Kathy, you really should apply. This is a wonderful district to work for. You will feel like you've come home." Well that sounded good to me! So I applied.

Now what have I learned after all of these years about interviewing? I've learned to bring stuff and talk a lot! So when I got an interview, I brought my rolling cart full of binders with examples of professional development trainings, preschool curriculum, Social Stories, and the FBA/BIP I'd worked on with Michelle and Bonnie. When I came into the district office, Geri met me at the door. She said, "What is all that?" I said, "I just thought I would bring a few examples of things I've done over the years." She laughed and said, "Okay, but we've only got 45 minutes! Take your cart to the elevator, but don't you get in. Nobody rides the elevator. Just send it to the second floor and you take the stairs."

I did just that. Upstairs the special services area was large and light. People were friendly and open. The interview went well and in a couple of days I found out I had the job. I was delighted! My office area had a window and amazing amounts of storage! In all of my years as a specialist, I never once had a window!

Over the next several weeks I moved in and started to learn about the people and the job. I would have seven elementary schools and the special education programs and teachers attached to them. The job would be very much like what I did for Spokane, but more "hands-on". I could spend more time problem solving and working with others; something that slowly went away in Spokane as the specialists retired and were not replaced. This sounded great!

I really did feel like I had "come home"!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: Micro-managing and Muppet Meeting Mondays Make Me Move On!

When I first got hired as an education specialist for Spokane Public Schools, there were ten of us who worked with the special education teachers in the thirty five elementary schools, six middle schools, and five high schools. We also had five area coordinators and a special education director and assistant director. The ten of us worked collaboratively, but had the autonomy to work on our own with the trust of our superiors that we not only knew what we were doing, but could do it well and probably better with less interference. This didn't mean that we were out there randomly doing whatever we wanted; we always checked with our coordinators, frequently met with them, and did things for them when they had other duties. It was a very efficient system and I loved my job.

Then early in 2010, things changed. Our special ed director retired, and the person put in charge had no background in special education. In fact, I'd heard her on more than one occasion express her disdain for special education and how it was run. She vowed to "clean it up". In her mind, there did not need to be a lot of support staff helping the teachers in the field. Indeed, as the ed specialists retired, none were replaced. By this time, we were down to two ed specialists for the elementary programs and just two for the secondary. Only two elementary coordinators remained as well, and anything, and I mean ANYTHING you wanted to send out in an email, propose for professional development, etc., had to be approved with the director first.
One day in the spring of 2010, Susan B., the coordinator I worked for, asked me to send out a group email to the preschool teachers. I did, and then boy, did I hear about it! The director emailed me and told me that I was not to email this group again. I tried to explain that my immediate boss had asked me to do it. She said that she didn't care who asked me to do it, I wouldn't be doing it again! Suddenly going to work was not as much fun. Slowly my responsibilities with the preschool group disappeared altogether. Now another person was put in charge of that group; a person with NO early childhood background. Should I have been surprised?

I dreaded returning to work in the fall of 2010. No longer working with preschool programs, I now worked mostly with the elementary self-contained rooms. I liked working with these teachers! They had been without support after Joanie S. and Cindy V. retired. They appreciated everything you did for them. But then there were the meetings! As things got underway, the new leadership decided to have meetings with all support staff every other Monday. I dreaded these meetings mostly because the director, being the supreme micro-manager, loved to tell us all what we were doing wrong. I began to refer to these meetings as Muppet Meeting Mondays. Here is a post from my Facebook page that fall: "Tomorrow is Muppet Meeting Monday. We have to do this two times a month.Not looking forward to it. Just so you know, I will be playing the part of Oscar the Grouch. The parts of Miss Piggy and Scooter are permanently taken. Any of you that will be going want to claim a character?"

By the middle of October, I was resigned to having a horrible year, but then it got worse. Dave, one of the assistant special ed directors, asked me to send out a group email about the new IEP's we were doing and how to write good present levels, etc. I thought, surely if Dave asks me to do this, I don't have to check with the director. Wrong! This time the director sent me an email saying I had to meet with her. I was shocked. I started archiving her emails to me. Her tone was very threatening. I called the Spokane Education Association and asked for a representative to come with me to the meeting. The president herself decided to join me. At the meeting the SEA president asked about my background, what I had been doing during my years in Spokane, and what the problem was as I saw it. I talked about my long career in special education, my twenty-two years as a classroom teacher, and my support to both preschool and other elementary special education programs over the past twelve years. The president listened and then said to the director, "It seems like Kathy has a lot of knowledge about special education and programs. Why wouldn't you listen to her suggestions and allow her to make some decisions on her own?" And this was the director's response, "Because I don't have to."

And that was that. Two weeks later I was told I would no longer be just an ed specialist, but that half of my time would be as a behavior intervention specialist. Don't get me wrong. I had learned a lot about behavior over the years, and the behavior intervention specialists I got to hang out with were the best, but I had not pursued this kind of a job. I had signed on to be an ed specialist. Can you say "retaliation"? 

I made it through the year, but it was a hard one. Thank goodness the people I worked with on a daily basis were great. Teachers, therapists, other specialists; you couldn't ask for a better bunch. But at the end of the year, I knew I needed to make a choice. Thanks to a good friend, I found out that a similar position was opening up in Central Valley. So I decided to apply.

When I got the job in CV, Susan B. decided to throw a little going away party for me. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to wish me well. It was such a gift to me. I only hope that everyone I worked with over the years in Spokane felt I gave something back to them.