Tina Northern, Director of Special Education
When Tina Northern began her career in education, she never thought she would work in special education, let alone become the director of special education.
Tina began her education career as an elementary classroom teacher. Within her classroom, she had a group of students with disabilities. She wanted to be able to effectively teach the students, so she earned her special education license. It was after her training and success with the special education students in her classroom that her principal took notice. She was asked to lead a self-contained special education classroom – something she accepted with a bit of hesitation. After a year in the self-contained classroom, Tina knew her heart was in special education.
As the director of special education for Elkhart Community Schools, Tina oversees all special education programming and support at the district. She works with program supervisors and coordinators, establishes effective professional development, oversees instruction and therapy services, and works with assessments. The biggest component of Tina’s job is to get teachers what they need – funding, materials, training, space – to help maximize the growth of their students.
While Tina may spend a lot of time helping find resources for the program, her favorite part of the job is working with families. She recognizes the success of a student with disabilities depends on the relationship between the school and the parents. The family component is an aspect Tina hopes to grow through the development of a parent group for parents of students with disabilities. She is planning on meeting with parents to help guide the group – from presentation content to the development of subgroups based on age and need. She hopes the group will serve not only as a place for parents to come together to form friendships, but also as an opportunity to learn more about things like day-to-day tips, legislative issues impacting their families, and navigating case conferences.
Through the years, Tina has encountered many memorable moments and students, but there is one student and family who Tina holds close to her heart. As an incoming kindergartener, the parents requested their son be placed in an intense classroom. Tina gathered a team of teachers, specialists, the parents, and herself to evaluate and determine the best path forward. The group worked together and realized the student was best served if everyone involved at school and home could work on one big skill at a time. Through this relationship between school and home, the student made a tremendous breakthrough. His parents found that his formerly frustrating behavior at home began to subside, and he flourished in a traditional classroom.
Her proudest moment was the culmination of the first Unified Track Meet last year – seeing students’ and parents’ faces, knowing how many hours of staff and student volunteer hours went into it, and the teamwork between students with disabilities and students without disabilities – something that continues to inspire her to work hard for students. She is very much looking forward to the Unified Sports program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Tina places a positive emphasis on the focus of the special education team. She says the outlook on special education as a whole has changed – with researching showing children with disabilities can perform at very high academic levels, saying that the only ceiling kids have is the ones adults set for them. Her advice to parents further emphasizes a positive focus. She encourages parents to work with schools to learn more about what’s working at the schools, then incorporate those things into the student’s home life. Overall, she would like to see more focus on identifying what students can do and how to use their strengths to help close gaps. She is a strong advocate for celebrating growth and success, no matter how small it may seem.
When Tina is not at work, she is still very involved in school. Her husband is the band director at a neighboring district, so she can usually be found at band events – she loves that she gets to see Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial perform. She also enjoys boating on the river with her husband.