“This job has been fabulous — I’ve made a lot of friends and connections in the community,” said Karen Shrick.
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Shrick retired on June 30 as director of special education for the El Dorado Union High School District. Her retirement is an illustration of one door closing and another one opening up.
Shrick and her husband, Ed, have been long-time volunteers with Hope House, a transitional housing program for women and children in El Dorado County.
“It’s a huge part of our lives,” said Shrick. “It’s our way of giving back and we want to expand Hope House.”
For 10 years, Shrick, 60, has been director of special education, overseeing special services at four comprehensive high schools, two alternative education schools and charter schools, as well as a regional program for emotionally disturbed children and transition programs for 18 to 22-year-old students, not yet ready to leave school.
She reflected on her 20 years of service with the high school district and 27 years in El Dorado County at the district office on June 26.
She met her husband, Ed, at Idaho’s Mountain Home Air Force Base while teaching on the base. Three years later, the couple was stationed in Italy where their two children, Robin and Matthew were born.
“When we came back to the United States, I volunteered at Pioneer Elementary School where my children were attending,” said Shrick. “Then I decided to go into special education and I got my master’s degree.”
She was hired to teach at Herbert Green Middle School.
“I never thought I would want to teach anything but elementary school but I loved middle school,” said Shrick.
Budget cuts in the 1990s eliminated Shrick’s job but she was hired at EDUHSD.
“I found that I loved high school kid, too,” said Shrick.
She taught at Ponderosa High School for 10 years while her children were attending there.
“I tried to let them be as independent of me as possible but it was nice to have all of us leaving the house in the morning in the same direction.”
When the director’s job became available, Shrick applied for it but didn’t get it.
“The former director had gone to Lodi and she offered me a job as a special education coordinator so I did that for six months. I got to go out of the county and see a lot of ethnic diversity, bigger schools and different programs and I brought that back to my own community later.”
The person who had been hired as EDUHDS’s director of special education left and Shrick came on board in 2003.
She has watched special education programs change from pullout classes to mainstreaming with support, from handwritten Individualized Education Plans to computerized plans and helped grow the ED program from two to three classes. She’s weathered, and helped the district’s teachers weather, the changing face of assessment.
“At first everybody had to pass the exit exams,” said Shrick. “Then they (special education students) could take it every year. Now, they are exempt but can still take it.”
Shrick has noticed changes in teachers as well.
“Regular teachers now do a much better job of making modifications and recognizing that kids with special needs belong to all of us,” said Shrick.
The newest trend has classroom teachers and special education teachers co-teaching.
“Special education teachers are really excited about it — they can really teach and they can model how to meet the needs of all the kids, including high level students. It’s broadening the special education scope, but it’s also helping regular teachers stretch. Some kids who struggle are not special education students, but they still need help. This is the best of both worlds,” said Shrick.
As Shrick hands over the reins of her job to Pam Bartlett, she is excited about getting to spend more time with Hope House, with her two grandchildren, Lily and Jameson, and with supporting the Blue Tarp School in Tijuana, Mexico.
“The community connections I’ve made in my job have benefitted the women at Hope House many times over,” said Shrick. “It’s cool to see how my life-long work can benefit others.”
Out of the classroom as director, Shrick missed being with students and she began to visit the ED classes, taking snacks and trying to make sure they were successful.
“Those kids are our most at-risk students and the programs take much of my time because they need so many extra services,” said Shrick.
Some of the students returned the favor and showed up at her retirement party. One young man made a speech.
“That party was perfect — my family was there, women and children from Hope House were there and my work family was there — it’s what I’m all about,” said Shrick.
As a reverse kind of retirement gift, Shrick is handing out polished rocks with the word “Hope” engraved on them.
“I have faith that the work we do at Hope House and what we do in education will give kids and parents hope for the future and make a difference in their lives,” she said.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530-344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.