2020 SEPAC AWARDS
Needham High School
Entering high school, especially one as large and robust as Needham High, can be overwhelming for any student. For those with special needs and learning differences, a smooth transition to 9th grade is critical to set up success — academically, socially and emotionally — throughout all of one’s high school life.
Kaitlin O'Malley has the combination of both wisdom and emotional intelligence, which is essential for an effective special educator. She plays a critical role in helping her students transition to high school. Prior to the beginning of the school year, she researches students backgrounds and communicates with previous educators and teams in order to support her kids effectively from the start. One parent remarks: “Within a few weeks of becoming my son’s liaison and skills teacher, she had a thorough understanding of his complicated and unique social and learning profile. She gave him the time and space he needed to first build a trusting relationship. This paved the way to being able to successfully deliver the services he truly needs while allowing independence with skills he has already mastered.”
Kaitlin makes the effort needed to build an honest, positive relationship with each of her students, and provides individualized support to each of them at their own level. One of her student’s shares, “Ms. O took the time to really get to know me and my learning style. She has taught me to be an extremely organized student which has helped me. She is always there to support me.” Another student adds, “She is really good at helping each kid. She isn’t too basic. She helps each kid with whatever they are working on or needs.”
Her talent, skills and commitment extend outside of serving her kids in the classroom. Kaitlin has skilled intuition when it comes to collaborating with parents. One parent writes, “When I have contacted her for questions or support, she is always quick to return calls and emails despite her busy day.” Another parent remarks, “Our annual IEP meeting was organized and efficient, and we were able to collaborate on updated goals and benchmarks quickly and effectively. She has been incredibly helpful in coordinating additional support and resources for him outside of school. In a wonderful letter of recommendation she wrote for a program that my son is interested in, she was able to accentuate his strengths while being honest about his challenges. She emphasized how his specific character and profile made him an ideal candidate for the program.”
Kaitlin has the trust and respect of her students, as well as parents and colleagues. Knowing that her students learn through both successes and failures, she helps them to understand the value in both of those experiences. She maintains high expectations for her students while staying empathic, collaborative, and inclusive, giving her the ability to motivate each of her students to be their own best self. Needham High School is incredibly fortunate to have her as a part of their team.