Meet the 2021 SPSSC Chair Susan Connolly, Assistant Superintendent- Student Services Placer County Office of Education
What led you to your current role at the Placer county office of education or to education in general?
I was enrolled at CSU, Stanislaus, when I began to work as a substitute teaching assistant for the Stanislaus County Office of Education. I immediately fell in love with the students I had the opportunity to work with daily. I was inspired by my colleagues and intrigued by the skill and devotion I witnessed. Ultimately, I graduated, earning a BS in Geography, and immediately started teaching students with moderate to severe disabilities. Several years later, I was fortunate to be hired by the Placer County Office of Education and spent the next decade teaching students with autism. After leaping into special education administration, the focus of my work shifted to alternative education for many years. Now, I am privileged to oversee the regional special education and alternative education programs as well as our charter school.
What does your day-to-day look like as the chair of the SPSSC Steering committee and in your role at the Placer county office of education?
Very busy! My day-to-day work starts early in the morning, working with site leaders to ensure all programs have the staff required to operate safely. Keeping classrooms appropriately staffed has become even more of a challenge in the past year since we have been providing in-person instruction since mid-September. Once schools are up and running, I attend various meetings, crunch data, write plans, manage the budget, and keep up with ever-changing guidance and requirements. Chairing the Student Programs and Services Steering Committee (SPSSC) allows me to see the big picture. The SPSSC executive committee works daily to provide guidance, best practices, and support related to the unique programs that are the responsibility of the fifty-eight county offices of education.
What are some of the goals or objectives you would like to achieve within SPSSC this year?
SPSSC is unique in supporting some of the most vulnerable students in California during this very challenging time. Our number one goal is to make sure our students are engaged in their education and receiving the support they need. Supports come in many shapes and sizes and may be related to improving mental health, removing barriers to accessing education, securing housing, or ensuring adequate nutrition. SPSSC members know that a community is only as strong as the education and services provided by our local schools, and we work together every day to strengthen that bond.
What is a bright spot / exemplary program in your Steering Committee that would be of interest to other educators?
It is too hard to choose just one! From Fresno CSS’s Kids’ Cafe and welding program to San Joaquin COE’s partnership with Discovery Challenge Academy to Riverside and Stanislaus COE’s Come Back Kids program, there are outstanding programs in every part of California. Partnerships, creativity, and innovation are the hallmarks of county-operated programs. I encourage all educators to reach out to their COE colleagues to see the possibilities.
What does being a SPSSC member/chair mean to you?
It is such an honor to work beside such passionate, dedicated educators. When I was new to the committee, I was welcomed with warmth and camaraderie. SPSSC members operate some of the least understood programs in the state. What a relief it was to find like-minded educators with so much knowledge and experience! Becoming the Chair of SPSSC has been a gift. I have broadened my perspective, continued learning, and supported my county counterparts in new and unexpected ways. Working with the CCSESA staff has also been incredibly rewarding. I have appreciated the encouragement and support CCSESA staff have provided, especially regarding sharing the SPSSC perspective on potential legislation and changes in the educational landscape.