With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing changes to how education will be delivered safely, Sealy ISD’s new special education director Shae Whatley is thankful practically everybody is starting a new job when the 2020-2021 school year kicks off.
“It's a completely different ballgame,” Whatley said. “Pretty much everyone knows what a classroom teacher looks like and how that looks in a face-to-face instruction, but really across education, everyone's kind of starting a brand new job in creating a virtual instruction model of what that looks like for kiddos.”
Whatley had served as Sealy ISD’s diagnostician since 2008, administering tests to determine eligibility and working with teachers to provide proper placement for each student, and takes over for Sarah Magee who took the special education director job at Farmersville ISD. Whatley said she’s already leaned on Magee for advice and will likely continue to do so.
“As far as transitioning, she and I were co-workers and we're friends so it's very easy if I have a situation, or I need to call and say, ‘Hey, what about this situation, where were you in the middle of that,’” Whatley posed. “She'll call and say, ‘Hey, I've never had to do this before, what do you typically do from a diagnostician perspective,’ so we've been able to exchange information and be able to both help each other in our new roles just in different places.”
Since taking over the role about a month ago, Whatley said she’s already been able to have a meeting with each of the campus principals and opened discussions about potential concerns at each building and what they can do to remedy those.
“I'm getting the opportunity (to) meet with the special education teams at each campus, and we're going to review, ‘Here’s what your normal procedures look like as far as reaching out to students but let's put these other special things into place,’” Whatley said. “That communication with parents is essential and making sure we're giving them different modes of communication to be able to reach others, they might not have a cell phone, but they can access Google classroom, so you can reach them through the tab.”
Students’ safety has been the primary goal in all of the return-to-school plans and Whatley said many of the district leaders involved in creating the return-to-school plans have their own children in the system and are looking out for everyone. Whatley and her husband Wade have two children going into Sealy Elementary, Cole and Channing, and one at Sealy Junior High, Callie.
“We're all parents too, our kids are there with everyone else's kids,” said Whatley. “It's not just your kids, they're all our kids. They're our kids' friends, your kids' in my kids' class too so we're going to make the best decision that's best for all the kids.”
Of course, some families will take advantage of the online learning opportunities and Whatley said the same steps have been taken to ensure those students get what they need virtually.
“Some parents aren't going to feel comfortable with (in-person learning), but that's OK,” she said. “(Then we look at) what can we do to also reach out to those parents to be able to make sure if they're choosing the virtual instruction model, how do we provide the best educational opportunity to all those students and make sure we have all the special education accommodations and modifications in place so that students can still be making gains and academic success.”
Looking ahead, Whatley’s goals in her new role have adjusted slightly with the recent guidelines.
“Last year, every nine weeks was a parent outreach night, but I really hope to see that expand a little more,” she said. “We're really looking at maybe once a nine weeks can we do a parent learning night where parents come and learn about the virtual options or some of the accommodations that might look like in the future and making sure we have virtual and face-to-face options as we go forward.”
Altogether, Whatley said she hopes to blaze a new trail through the wake of the pandemic.
“I feel like (parent outreach is) critical and making sure in this new education world that we're stepping into that parents are walking along with us to be able to create this new path because it really is a completely new path for everyone and that we're creating steppingstones for everyone along the way,” Whatley said.