(Full interview HERE)
Could you please tell me about your job?
I’m a program specialist. I work a lot with families and help them understand their IEP’s, make sure that there are no paper errors. Right now, we just switched to a new form, so there is a big learning curve.
One of the things that I do, that I really, really like, is at North Gate High School. Every Monday, their special ed staff gets together for lunch and they invited me. So I go and I listen and if there’s anything they need, or that they need more training on or more information on, they give it to me- and that’s my job. Then, I give it back to them on the following Monday. So, that’s very proactive. They’ve really grown a lot.
I also am the program specialist for all the Spectrum Autism Collaborative, which means I’m a case manager for all those kids. I think collaboratives are wonderful. They’re working so well for the kid’s that are in there. They’re program matches them perfectly.
It’s really a liaison between the administration offices and the school site. I have one more school added, Strandwood (Elementary School), and I really like working with the principal. One of the things I did, just to try to offer them support, is - every administrator has to sit in on the Administrative Hearing Panel. So, I offered to sit in for the Principal of Elementary because they don’t have any other administrators.
What inspired you to even get into this field?
Well, my Masters (degree) is actually in Social Welfare, but I really like how social welfare does blend with education. One of our student projects, we had to go through job interviews and decide on somewhere we thought we would like to go. So, I saw Dr. (Mildred) Brown and told her, “I would like to be a program specialist” and she said, “Melody, you know, you’re just not ready.” That’s when the Parent Liaison (position) was coming up. She said, “Why don’t you start to attend the board meetings to see if you hear anything that interests you.” So, I started to going to the board meetings and at one board meeting I heard it (the Parent Liaison position) and so then I just kind of latched on (to the position.)
What is your professional goal? Have you reached it?
Uh- uh. I’m a life-long learner. I just got my People/Personnel Services credential in December. So I went back to school for that. In January, I’m planning on going back to school to get my Master’s in Autism. So, I have this urge to go to school – always.
As far as the District goes, I did summer school at Alliance and that was fun - not last summer but the summer before that (Melody clarifies.) I love being with the kids. I absolutely loved it. Those are some pretty unique kiddos that they’ve got over there and they were great.
So, after you get your Master’s, what are you going to do with that?
I think that it will just help me be more effective with the autism program. That is where the growth area is in the district. Right now, I do all the Spectrum collaboratives. Well, in the future, we might not have the Spectrum collaborative because we will have our own classrooms. So, I would like to be the program specialist for those classrooms.
What do you like best about your job?
I really, really like the people I work with. We have lost some really good people in the district this year. I respect them, they are good to work with. We have interest in common and a single vision. I like knowing that I’m doing something that is going to make a difference in a kid’s life. I like going to the annual IEP and seeing the progress.
I enjoy my job. I really do. I look forward to it. When it presents a challenge, I look forward to fixing it.
If you could change anything about your job or services you provide, what would it be?
The one thing is that the MGT report that we did said that there should be 9 program specialists. If I could change anything, it would be to find the funding for 9 program specialists because then we would be able to support our sites better. We are stretched. I have 15 elementary schools, 2 middle and one high (school.) There is one program specialist that has 3 high schools. My cell phone is one my business card, I do email and I’m always trying to keep everyone in the loop of what is going on. I try to be as accessible as possible, return those emails in 48 hours maximum- I returned all my phone calls yesterday and people were shocked, “I can’t believe you called me back today!”
If we had the full compliment of program specialists, we would be able to do more staff development. We’re using new IEP forms now. There is a training process, but no “hands on.” I went to an IEP yesterday, the teacher was so cute, she had all these Stickies on the IEP- what she didn’t know how to answer. We’re used to a 4 page facesheet. It (the new IEP form) lines up with the State, so that’s good. I told you about the Northgate meetings? They asked me to bring a completed IEP form to see what it’s supposed to look like.
I wonder what parents could do to help with that (new IEP process?)
What would be a really good activity is that they (the parent’s) could take their kid’s IEP and transfer it on the new form so that they know where to find the information. This isn’t the real IEP that they’re using, but they’re familiarizing themselves with the form- so they know where things are. Believe me, nothing, nothing is familiar about these forms. Where’s the kid’s name? Oh, there it is. Where’s the kid’s birth date? Oh, it’s on this page. MIS will not accept the old forms.
(Updated IEP docs HERE)
Contact information: Melody G. Royal, M.S.W., Program Specialist