In April 2014, I wrote about Sandy Shacklady-White, supervisor of special education in the West Chester Area School District of Pennsylvania. I had the chance to finally meet her face to face at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference & Expo 2015 in Philadelphia. When I inquired about how things were going, she suggested that I talk to one of her staff members, Nick Polcini, which I did this month. I’m happy to report that progress is being made, one skill at a time.
Nick is an autistic/learning support teacher at Henderson High School. When I asked him why he chose a career in special education, he answered immediately that from kindergarten, he knew he wanted to be a teacher. That desire grew into a passion based upon his own experiences in school. Like many of the best teachers I know, he struggled academically himself, and resources were limited at his school. It wasn’t until he reached Ocean City High School and Cumberland County Community College (CCCC) that he received the support he needed to be successful. Barry McLaughlin, an instructor at CCCC, recognized that Nick’s own experience, combined with solid academic training, would fuel his passion to be an ardent educator. A master’s degree led to fulfilling his dream of assisting students in very much the same way that he received help.
Nick’s dedication comes through every time he talks about his students, whom he refers to as “his” kids.” “I get excited when one student masters a single skill,” Nick said, “It may never be the entire course. However, learning the basics of balancing a checkbook will go further than any algebra concept.” His dedication is not limited to the walls of his classroom. Nick recently completed his volunteer tenure as president of the Pennsylvania Council for Exceptional Children, an organization whose mission is “to improve, through excellence and advocacy, the education and quality of life for children and youth with exceptionalities and to enhance the engagement of their families.”
Many of Nick’s students fall somewhere in the Asperger’s spectrum, and their learning deficits cross over multiple grade levels. He spent three weeks this summer running West Chester’s Extended School Year (ESY) program for a group of high school students, where one of the programs he utilized was Study Island. The ability to differentiate assignments within Study Island helped him maximize his students’ practice time by personalizing assignments to target their individual knowledge gaps. With automatic scoring, Nick had real-time data to make timely and effective decisions, which is even easier to view using Edmentum Sensei, our innovative data dashboard. With Sensei, he didn’t have to interpret reports in order make instructional decisions.
Nick’s vision is rooted in support on many levels. He understands that there has to be a balance among the needs of all stakeholders, which can be quite a juggling act. Support from Sandy, his supervisor, is invaluable. He finds that her proactive approach puts everyone’s best interests first, including his own. She helps keep him grounded when faced with what appears to be the conflicting requirements. Sandy will run interference for him so that he can do what he does best ̶ teach.
I will never cease to be amazed at how much time and effort dedicated teachers and administrators put into their work every day, despite the many draining outside forces in education today. Nick and Sandy truly represent the best of a team approach, which includes parents, other teachers, and most importantly, the students themselves. Fortunately, to the benefit of “his kids,” Nick persevered to live out his “why” of [DR1] becoming a teacher.