Jeannie Dickson | Desert Willow Elementary School

Q: Tell us a little bit about you?

A: My name is Jeannie Dickson and I am proud to say I am native of Carlsbad, NM.  I’ve been married to my husband, John, for 32 years. He is an employee of Nuclear Waste Partnership at the WIPP Site. We are members of St. Edwards Catholic Church. We have one daughter, Janea, and a soon to be son-in-law, Steven Gomez. A majority of our extended family lives in Carlsbad. Weekly get-togethers and Sunday dinners have been a norm in our family for over 35 years.  My husband and I believe we have been blessed to have our careers to raise our daughter in this community.

Q: Please tell us a little bit about your professional background? What is your current position?

A: I have a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the College of the Southwest and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from the Grand Canyon University. I have been employed with the (CMS) Carlsbad Municipal School District for 18 years. In the last five years I’ve become a certified LETRS trainer, completed the Aspiring Leadership Program, and obtained my administrative license. Being a district mentor, I am able to provide additional support for new teachers throughout their first year of teaching. Most of my career has been in the first grade classroom at Puckett Elementary. Currently, I am an Instructional Interventionist at Desert Willow Elementary.

For the past 18 years, I’ve served on the Carlsbad CHARACTER COUNTS! Board. Being active in CHARACTER COUNTS! gives me the opportunity to serve as a representative for Desert Willow Elementary.

Q: What are your hobbies and interests?

A: Summertime is a time when I can enjoy my hobbies and interests! One of my interests is working with students that have special needs. I spend part of my summer teaching the ESY (Extended School Year) program. This gives me the opportunity to work with a special group of teachers and students that I normally do not see throughout the school year. The half day program includes academics and social skills development. My favorite part of this program is being able to take our students to the natatorium and introduce them to the water and teach them basic swimming skills.

Traveling is on my to-do list in the summer months. In last year, I’ve traveled mostly in the South. I attended the (IAIE) International Alliance of Invitational Education World Conference in Kentucky last fall. (Carlsbad will be hosting the IAIE World Conference October 17-20, 2017.)  At home, I enjoy gardening, walking, water skiing, reading and spending time relaxing with family and friends, usually by a pool. I also enjoy playing board games with my family.

Q: Would you please explain your role as an Instructional Interventionist?

A: My role as an Instructional Interventionist is to address the specific needs of a particular child when regular classroom instruction is not sufficient. I work closely with classroom teachers using assessment and observation data to target students’ needs and/or additional remediation. I focus on all five of the main components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. We work together to design methods of learning that are most appropriate for each child.

I service most students that are assessed and diagnosed as high-risk for reading deficits in grades 1-3. I help them improve specific reading skills such as letter naming, initial sounds, phoneme segmentation and comprehension strategies.

Q: How did you wind up in your current-position?

A: My first assignment was a Title I teaching position. I pursued educational intervention trainings and coursework early on in my career.  Several years ago, I was offered the opportunity to attend the LETRS Trainings and become a certified trainer. Working as a district mentor and completing these professional development series peaked my interest in a career change.

Q: Desert Willow was a brand new school this year. What were some of the special challenges and benefits of starting in a new building?

What an amazing opportunity I’ve had to be a part of opening a newly constructed elementary school! I consider myself blessed to have experienced this as an educator. When visiting with many educators across the country, not many have had the experience of opening a new school.  It has been one of the highlights of my career.

Of course, anything new comes with a challenge or two. The one challenge was packing and unpacking 400 boxes of instructional resources, which included two guided reading libraries. With the unconditional support of co-workers, family and friends, we were able to have these materials packed and ready for transport when Desert Willow opened. Again, the same volunteers returned in early August to help unpack most of these materials.

Q: How did you and other members of your school help get two schools to merge together?

A: I commend our administrators, Deborah Beard and Nora Villarreal, for building a positive school culture for Desert Willow Elementary, before the staff and students at Pate and Puckett merged.   The instructional staff from both buildings met numerous times throughout the school year.  They began getting to know each other, what their expectations were and they shared teaching styles.  They also developed the Vision and Mission Statement for Desert Willow. Beginning a year before we took occupancy, the students at both schools were able to participate in the selection of Desert Willow’s school mascot and school colors through a voting system. The art teacher, Jana Callicoat, with the support of many staff members, held an Art Night at Puckett Elementary and invited parents and students from both elementary schools. Our merging school community had a fun-filled evening participating in art activities and fellowship. Some of the art created that evening is displayed in our new building. At the end of the 2015-16 school year, Pate and Puckett combined their yearly fund-raising event and held the first Color-Run event at Pate Elementary.

Q: Tell me about your co-workers?

A: The staff at Desert Willow has an “I Can” attitude and are committed to provide the best possible education for our scholars. The ability to work in groups and collaborate is one of the skills we instill alongside the common core state standards. We strive to teach our scholars how to ask questions, plan activities that require deep thinking and complex problem solving and we model collaboration for our scholars. Proactive problem solving and collaboration carries over into our bi-weekly PLC (professional learning community) grade level meetings.

Not only does the staff support one another professionally, they provide emotional support when needed.

Q: What changes have you seen in your field over the past ten years?

A: The overall framework for teaching has changed due to studies and research conducted over the past 10 years to promote improvement in student learning. Within the framework, the two significant changes are the in-depth teacher evaluation rubric and the assessment tools used to measure student achievement.  The third major change is the adoption of the (CCSS) Common Core State Standards.

Our teachers continue to acquire new instructional skills to teach for deep conceptual understanding and our students are intellectually active in learning.

Although testing measures have changed, our teachers continue to have an “I Can” attitude with all the demands that are required in the timeframe allotted to accomplish the goals set for measuring student achievement.

Q: What changes do you think will happen in the future to your field?

A: Future changes are in the hands of our politicians. However, our elected officials must have a concrete understanding of educating today’s youth and the new challenges that educators are facing. It is crucial that these elected officials have an educational background and work closely with today’s educational leaders in order to make sound decisions for the future of public education.

Thank You!