SAD 61’s Lisa Caron named Special Ed Administrator of the Year
By Wayne E. Rivet
Lisa Caron knew from an early age she wanted to work with children as a career.
A college professor told her she was on the right path, but felt her true calling was to work with special needs children.
He told Caron she was “gifted.”
Thirty-three years later, Lisa Caron not only proved her professor right, her work in the field of Special Education has caught the eye and appreciation of her peers.
Caron, who is director of Special Services in SAD 61, has been awarded the Special Education Administrator of the Year honor for 2017 by the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities (MADSEC).
Caron was nominated by her Regional Group of Special Education Directors due to her creative and extensive programming to insure student needs in her district are met in the least restrictive setting in their home schools. She believes providing appropriate training and equipping staff with the skills and tools they need to educate students, is the key to student learning and achievement.
In addition to her job as the director of Special Services and District 504 Coordinator, Caron also serves on MADSEC’s Professional Development Committee and as the alternative regional representative for the MADSEC Executive Board.
She is the Special Education Administrator representative for the Central Cumberland County Administrator Certification Committee.
During her 13 years in SAD 61, Caron has facilitated training in researched-based programming for her staff to meet the needs of district students. This includes previously being the only school district in Maine to establish a Lindamood Bell School Partnership for four years; the first school district in Maine to bring Behavior Analyst Technician Training to the Special Services Staff; and enhancing learning opportunities for her students and staff with technology, by providing professional development to staff to increase academic rigor for students in the district.
Caron was also an active participant in bringing Positive Behavior and Supports training to SAD 61.
She has been described as “a forward thinker whose decisions are always student centered — be it budget, curriculum, personnel or professional development.” Since she started in the district, Caron has grown day treatment programs from two to four, addressing the specific and unique needs of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and/or significant behavioral and mental health challenges.
Finally, Caron is considered by her peers as a reflective leader, who with the support of her superintendent and building administrators, most recently led an initiative in SAD 61 to push a co-teaching model, which benefits both regular and special education students and staff. Breaking down the walls between these programs and maintaining a focus on what is best for all students is a worthwhile goal and one that Caron championed.
Caron will be honored during the MADSEC Director’s Academy at the end of June.
SAD 61 Superintendent of Schools Al Smith and the School Board Monday night recognized Caron for her award and her work. Smith noted that the “Academy” takes its nomination process “very seriously,” making the selection of Lisa Caron quite an honor.
The News posed the following questions to Ms. Caron regarding the award, as well as her thoughts on her special education career:
What was your reaction to receiving this honor? There are approximately 158 Special Education Administrators and 30 Assistant Special Education Administrators in the State of Maine, so I feel both humbled and a little overwhelmed to be receiving this award. I feel truly blessed that my peers feel that I am worthy of such an honor!
How did you decide to enter this field (influences)? For education in general, I was definitely influenced by my father, who was a teacher and administrator. I knew from an early age that I wanted to work with children for a career. During my senior year of college, I had the opportunity to choose a minor. Special Education was still fairly new at that point. During my first course in Special Education, which involved working with adults with disabilities, my professor told me I had “a gift” working with this population. At that time, that did not really resonate with me, but after teaching for several years in special education, I went on to get my master’s degree in Special Education, then became an administrator about 15 years ago. The last 33 years have gone by very quickly and I know I am doing exactly what I am supposed to!
What has been your approach/philosophy in regards to your role as director of special education? I feel that my role/job as the director is to insure that the special services staff have the training and tools required to educate the students requiring special education services. I became a director because I wanted to be in a position to help with decision-making around the educational practices best for students with disabilities.
What would you say have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced over the past few years? Tough question, but I guess I would say keeping a full staff (the state and country face this challenge due to a shortage of certified and qualified special education staff) and growing and/or maintaining quality special education programs while being fiscally responsible to the families and taxpayers of our community.
How has the educational climate changed in regards to special education services? This question is challenging and impossible to sum up in few words. To understand the climate change, one would need to know the original intent of the Special Education Law that began in 1975. This law was to guarantee individuals with disabilities a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which meant bringing individuals with significant disabilities out of institutions and into public schools.
Over the last 40-plus years, this law has been reauthorized multiple times with many changes. The law now recognizes 14 areas of disability. The hardest concept I think for most to understand is that all students must be considered, first and foremost, regular education students and, as such, are expected to progress in the general curriculum and meet the same standards as all other students. Therefore, the purpose of special education is not to identify and serve children with disabilities, but to identify and serve children with disabilities, whose needs cannot be met in the general education program.
Special education is a service designed to support students and regular educators in responding to curriculum and instructional challenges in the least restrictive, most appropriate, learning environment possible.
Finally, what is the greatest reward you experience in this field? The greatest reward of my job is seeing students with disabilities meet their educational goals and leave our high school prepared for their next journey in life. This often means the students (and their families) have needed to overcome many obstacles to reach their educational goals. For my work here in SAD 61, this year is a highlight. I get to watch the students that were kindergarteners my first year here receive their diplomas. I feel like I have come full circle over the last 13 years and am very excited about being able to witness this huge life experience with many students and families I have had the opportunity to work with.