Rome City Schools held their Special Education Rookie Retreat last week at the RCS Board of Education room at the Central Office. The intensive orientation lasted a full week and Kriszti Kilpatrick, Director of Special Education for RCS, said this was the first conference of its kind.
There were 20 in attendance for the retreat, consisting of Special Education teachers, psychologists, and speech therapists; either brand new to the field or brand new to RCS.
“Our goal this week,” Kilpatrick explained, “has been to acclimate them to the district and what our high standards and expectations are for the department, and to get them acclimated to policies, procedures, practices, and meeting the needs of the individual students they’re going to be serving.”
Kilpatrick explained that RCS begins serving children with disabilities as early as the age of three, through grade 12. She said that upon the last data collection, in May, RCS served about 670 students with disabilities.
The retreat covered aspects of the job, such as how to evaluate and assess a student in order to create a good plan for them, how to write goals for the student, how to work with students who have difficult behaviors and how to put positive plans in place for them.
“Students with disabilities receive their services through an Individual Education Plan (IEP),” Kilpatrick explained, “so we are training our team on how to design an appropriate IEP for students, how to work with other colleagues and families, and understanding the legalities of the work that they’re going to do in Special Education.”
The main objective of the retreat was to let the “rookies” know that they have the full support of the RCS board, administration, and fellow faculty.
“Being a teacher is hard, and being a Special Ed teacher is really hard,” Kilpatrick said. “They’ve got to have a good support system from the top down. It’s really about wrapping our arms around them and training them up, supporting them, and helping them to be successful.”
Fourth year Special Education teacher at Rome High School, Debbie Hayes, said that this type of support is invaluable. With 20 years of experience working with children with disabilities, Hayes said that this training has offered a lot of clarity.
“I had a lot of learning-by-doing before,” Hayes explained, “and so just having everything kind of slow down and go step by step through some of these processes; it takes some of the anxiety off.”
First year Special Education teachers, Cole Robertson and Dustin Odom, echoed Hayes sentiment.
“This week really has shown me how supportive Rome City Schools is to their teachers,” Robertson said. “I really love the practical things that we’ve learned here; practical classroom management, procedures, how to collect data, and how to deal with behaviors in your classroom.”
Odom has been working as a para pro in Special Education since 2019. He made the mid-career change from accounting in an effort to be a positive male role model for students. Odom said that without training and support like the Rookie Retreat, working in Special Education can seem a bit overwhelming, but he never forgets why he does the job.
“We’re here to help,” Odom said. “We keep moving forward and realize that, at the finish line, we have to keep in mind that the love of the students is why we’re here. If I can make an impact on the kids and let them know that a total stranger cares for them, loves them, and wants to see them succeed…that’s why I’m here.”
One thing was entirely evident; there was no lack of compassion in the room.
“My goal as a teacher,” Robertson said, “for all my students, is to make sure they feel loved and heard, and that they learn to be as independent as possible.”
“When I began my career with Vocational Rehab,” Hayes added, “I was very struck by a blind gentleman who told me that, ‘the true definition of disability is not what you can’t do with what you don’t have, it’s what you don’t do with what you do have’…just building on the fact that everyone has ability.”