Karen Wilbrecht always knew she wanted to work in a profession helping people. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Eastern Oregon University, she continued her education at Pacific University to become a special education teacher. While pursuing her Master’s degree, she worked as an aide in special education classrooms.
“I felt it was a valuable experience to work as an aide. It’s a great way for anyone interested in teaching or working at a school to get a taste of what it’s like,” adds Wilbrecht.
Embracing the Roles of Teacher, Administrator
Wilbrecht currently serves as Special Education Director at Fossil Distance Learning Program located in Albany, Oregon. The K-8 public charter school works with families that school at home through a distance learning model.
“I sort of fell into this role as our program grew. When I started our program only had a couple hundred students and I was the lone special education teacher and I coordinated speech services for students who needed them as well.”
As the charter school has grown, Karen has hired additional teachers and added services through outside contracts. She coordinated all of those services over time so she has served as Special Education teacher and Special Education Director for the school.
“I still teach students, but I have a smaller caseload so I can attend to administrative duties. I really enjoy the teaching aspect of my job so I’ve been reluctant to give that up, but I also find a lot of value in my role of connecting students with the services they need to be successful,” adds Wilbrecht.
In addition to teaching K-2nd grade academics and running several virtual social skills groups, Karen supervises three other special education teachers and one Response to Intervention (RTI) Specialist. She coordinates with outside agencies to provide additional services for students who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and trains those providers and her own staff on policies, procedures and systems.
“I really like the variety of tasks that I do and the various people I get to connect with on a daily basis, including parents, students, teachers and SLPs. I love that my administration is very supportive of the special education department and lets us think outside the box to meet the needs of our students.”
“Since I go to a lot of IEP meetings I get to hear all of the amazing things that our teachers and providers are doing to help students and all of the great progress that students are making. Families are truly grateful for the support and I think they really feel like a valued member of the team in the way our program functions,” adds Wilbrecht.
A typical work day for Wilbrecht includes managing a variety of tasks. She answers a lot of emails from teachers, specialists and parents, and preps and teaches a group of students in reading, math, or social skills using Zoom. In addition, she may host or attend eligibility and/or IEP meetings, a staff meeting, SPED team meeting, or meet one-on-one with staff members.
“One of the struggles with our population is that because we get a lot of students who have been homeschooled previously, we have a lower percentage of students who have already been identified for SPED services. It has been a challenge to keep up with initial evaluations that are needed,” adds Wilbrecht.
Partnership with The Hello Foundation
Karen’s experience working with clinicians from The Hello Foundation (THF) has been very beneficial.
“They are very responsive, which is an issue I had with providers from a different company. THF’s model is to assign clinicians to a single school, which means they are more invested in the school and being a part of the program.”
The Hello There hybrid telepractice model combines the best of both worlds: monthly on-site visits paired with daily online services. Teletherapy is an effective and efficient way to deliver direct services to students, but nothing replaces a specialist working in the building when it comes to collaboration with teachers, school staff and families. THF’s speech-language pathologists and school psychologists train and supervise the aide, write lesson plans, provide direct and consultative services to students, complete compliance paperwork, and hold and attend meetings.
Long before COVID prompted schools to ponder online instruction for the masses, THF began utilizing teletherapy services to provide quality direct instruction to students in their local schools and home school programs. Since 2009, THF has been refining the art of prioritizing student growth through effective and efficient therapy, consultation, team meetings, and problem-solving directly with other specialists and families. Teletherapy with THF is ideal for school administrators most interested in working with a highly skilled professional experienced in moving students and teams forward.
“I actually had a student enroll in our program who had a speech evaluation completed by a clinician from THF. I was looking for an additional speech therapist and our current provider wasn’t able to find anyone. I visited THF website and was impressed with what I saw. I filled out the contact form and someone responded immediately and worked with me to solve my staffing issue mid-year.”
“I would recommend the Hello Foundation. I really like the model of hiring staff and paying them a salary rather than employing them as an independent contractor. They treat their employees well and employee morale seems high, which is important to me…I love that I get to interview clinicians and decide if they are a good fit rather than just having someone assigned,” adds Wilbrecht.
Professional Accomplishment, Personal Enrichment
Karen’s proudest accomplishment is building a special education program from the ground up. A member of the Fossil Distance Learning Program staff for 11 years, the program has grown from just a few hundred students when she started to around 1,800 students now. Over time Karen has established policies and procedures, hired and trained new staff, and contracted with more clinicians to be able to serve all students.
“I was a fairly new teacher when I started and I also worked part-time for another school. We had one speech therapist through a contract with another company, and we didn’t have a school psychologist at all. There was a big learning curve to figuring out how services would even work in our school model and I had to do a lot of research, asking questions, and trial and error,” adds Wilbrecht.
In her spare time, Karen loves the outdoors and enjoys hiking, camping and kayaking. She recently started taking swing dance classes and loves it! She also loves reading and is a member of a book club and a cookbook club.
One of Karen’s biggest inspirations is Dolly Parton.
“She is an amazing person who has done so many wonderful things. Besides being a great singer, she contributed a million dollars to efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, she created her own foundation that delivers free books to children worldwide monthly to increase literacy, and has managed to relate and appeal to people from all walks of life while putting forth messages of positivity, love, and acceptance. She’s been an avid supporter of LGBTQ rights and women’s rights and is such a genuine and warm person.”
Tips for New Administrators
Karen’s three tips for new administrators include:
- Ask lots of questions and seek out advice from others with more experience!
- Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know the answer (but will find out) or if you’ve made a mistake. No one is perfect, and admitting that makes you more relatable.
- Take time to care for yourself and spend time with family and friends. It’s easy to get bogged down with work, but everyone needs time to rest and recharge and you’ll do a better job if you have a life outside of your work.
The Hello Foundation is proud to be a part of the Care Options for Kids Community. At Care Options for Kids, we are committed to making a difference for our people through empowerment and encouragement to be there for themselves and their own families. We provide the choices and opportunities our people need to enhance their lives and grow their careers so they can provide better care for others. We believe in making a difference in every way, every day.
With locations in Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Oregon, Washington, California, and Wyoming, the Care Options for Kids Community offers a wide range of pediatric health services, including pediatric therapies, ABA therapy, nursing, family caregiver services, and school-based services.
At THF, we hire speech-language pathologists, speech-language pathology assistants, school psychologists, and occupational therapists. Our community of professionals fosters growth for one another and for the kids we serve. Join our team!