In this new segment profiling educators, allow us to introduce you to Cody Hanagan, director of special education for the Artesia Public School District.
Hanagan earned a master’s degree from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Having grown up in western New Mexico, she admitted she was not thrilled with the idea of moving to the opposite side of the state in 1994 after her husband accepted a position teaching high school agriculture. “I tell people that I did not come willingly, but it was by far the best decision we ever made! I grew up on the west side of the state surrounded by mountains. The east side of the state was just so different from where I grew up, but Artesia has been our home since day one,” she shared.
Hanagan started teaching special education in 1985 in Des Moines, New Mexico, and was the only special education teacher in the school district. “I taught students from preschool age through high school. I had 10 students, so I had 10 individualized lesson plans,” she revealed. In 1987, they moved to Socorro, where she also taught kindergarten through third grade special education, and she had between 15 and 19 students in the program. “I was responsible for meeting all of their academic needs, so we worked on reading, math, science and social studies. I worked with students from different backgrounds with different disabilities. That was before I had children of my own, so they were my kids, and we were a family!”
Having always been intrigued by the way in which people learn and why some students struggle to learn what comes so easy for others, she decided to go back to school and obtain a master’s degree in educational diagnostics in 1993. After moving to Artesia in 1994, she began working as the Preschool Transition Coordinator and diagnostician for the school district. “I had never imagined working with that age group, but I quickly learned that was where I needed to be,” she confessed.
She became an “early interventionist” at heart after seeing what a difference early intervention makes. In the spring of 2007, she was hired as Artesia’s special education director. “It has been a journey that has taken me from teaching in the classroom to completing evaluations and meetings to set up services for students to overseeing the department that is responsible for providing the services offered through special education. It has been an awesome experience to learn and grow and change with each position as well as all of the changes that have taken place in the field of special education.”
When she first moved to Artesia, Hanagan recalled the district’s motto, “Children first,” which is still the motto and philosophy of the district today. “Artesia Public Schools are one of a kind!” she boasted. “Every decision that is made, regardless of what the question is, starts with What is best for kids? As I have met and talked with people from other places, I have gained even more appreciation for this. We wake up in the morning with our daily goal to do what is best for kids. I personally have not experienced that any place else.”
Something she wants people to understand about her department, however, is that special education is heavily regulated by both the federal government and the state through laws, policies and procedure, and everything the teachers and therapists do is individualized for each child. “We are working with children starting at three years of age into adulthood with a variety of learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disabilities as well as those who are in our enrichment classes,” she explained. “We don’t have an unlimited amount of money, and we can’t always do everything that we would like to do, but we try to put the needs of each child first and treat them as we would treat our own child with the resources we are given. I know it can be frustrating at times when we can’t provide something that a family would really like for their child, but we try to be equitable in how we allocate our resources across the district to meet those individual needs. It is our passion that every child will use their strengths and talents to be successful in school and in life.”
So what is it that she finds so rewarding about her job that it has become her passion? She’ll tell you with no shortage of words that it all boils down to the people. “I am blessed to work with the most caring group of teachers, therapists, diagnosticians and other support providers. They work so hard every day for students. They never give up, and they are always trying to find a better way or a more successful way of teaching students new skills or helping them to achieve at a higher level. Every time we are given a new directive or a new requirement, the special education staff pulls together to make it happen. Students are learning, growing and achieving every day because of the hard work of so many dedicated people and the relationships and trust so many families place in us every day.”
In addition to the “Children first” motto, another phrase that she tries to teach as well as live by is “treat others as you would like to be treated.” She explained, “I try to approach every aspect of my job from the standpoint of how would I want my child to be treated? How would I want someone to help my child? And if I were in their shoes, what would my expectation be? I feel blessed to have been placed in a profession where it is possible to turn struggles into triumphs and watch young children grow and develop into adulthood.”
Outside the realm of education, Hanagan manages to squeeze in time for traveling and spending time with her family; however, she admitted her passion for her work is such that it can also be classified as her hobby. “I am in the process of trying to rediscover my hobbies and interests since my husband and I have become ‘empty nesters!’ I suppose I am one of those people that my career choice is such a passion of mine that my job is also my hobby. I am continually reading, dreaming and scheming about ways to provide better services for our students and how to support our teachers and therapists who are providing the services.”