The District 96 Board of Education filled two new district-level administrative positions in the areas of technology services and special education at their meeting April 18, in an attempt to provide more central leadership in the management of these programs across the district’s five schools.

Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson announced that Dr. Mary Polk, who has worked in the special education program at Oak Park and River Forest High School for the past 25 years, will start next year as the district’s first director of special education. Vern Bettis, currently the technology coordinator of Bensenville School District 2, was also announced as the district’s first director of technology services.

In a separate interview, Lamberson explained that the creation of the positions will make it easier to coordinate programs in both areas across the district.

“We are thrilled to have both Vern and Mary join the District 96 family,” Lamberson said. “They will bring a tremendous value to our education system.”

In the area of special education, Lamberson explained that Polk will be responsible for overseeing all the needs of the approximately 180 students in the special education program. This will involve establishing a common set of standards to determine those students in need of special education services, ensuring that similar programs and services are available to students at each school, and providing training for faculty in new teaching methods and programs available for special education students.

In addition, Lamberson said Polk will also be responsible for assisting principals and other administrators with interpreting test data for the district. This additional role, he said, will involve tracking students’ progress, assessing testing needs and trends at the individual, class and school levels.

Polk herself said she was “very excited” to start her new post in the district. A life-long resident of Riverside, she attended both Central School and Hauser Junior High as a child, and credits her first-grade teacher, Corinne Coffey, with setting her on her path towards a career in education.

“The opportunity to serve my neighbors in my hometown in the very building where I spent the most exciting time of my life is a dream job for me,” she said.

Polk started at Oak Park and River Forest High School as a special education teacher in 1981, and now serves as their support services chairperson.

Polk said she is looking forward to working at the elementary level in District 96 because it will give her the chance to work on early intervention for special education students, with the possibility of alleviating their needs before they reach high school.

“When the students come to me at the high school, I’ve often wondered what could have happened if only intervention could have been given when problems first started surfacing in first, third grade,” she said.

One of Polk’s main goals for the next year will be to expand early intervention special education practices in the district. In addition, she said she hopes to create more customized standardized testing schedules for individual students, some of whom may not necessarily need to take the three different standardized tests the district administers each year. In both these goals, she said, she will focus on acquiring extensive input from parents.

“I want to enlist parents as much as possible,” she stressed.

As for the director of technology services, Lamberson said this role would involve overseeing all instructional and administrative technology in the district. Bettis will be responsible for providing network and instructional support in classrooms and computer labs, and well as leadership in training faculty and staff in new equipment and software. He will be assisted in this, Lamberson said, by two instructional technologists.

Bettis said he has been serving in a similar position as technology coordinator at Bensenville School District 2 for the past three years. Prior to that he had served as an instructional technology specialist, in which he worked with teachers to help them integrate technology into their classrooms, for four years. His experience with instructional technology only represents a fraction of his career in education, however; prior to adopting his technological focus, Bettis taught at the elementary school level for 13 years.

“The main attraction was meeting people and seeing their excitement about educating the community and their desire to use technology in that scenario,” Bettis said. “The people I’ve met with have had a real good vision and desire and willingness to use technology in the classroom.”

As the new director of the technology services program, Bettis said he hopes to provide the leadership to coordinate that willingness to adopt instructional technology at the district level. Although he said he’s not yet sure what, if any changes, he’d like to see in the district, his main goal is to expand the use and understanding of new technology as much as possible.

“They already have a good foundation, and I hope to bring it to the next level,” he said. “This is definitely a digital world, and my interest is in empowering people to use technology to be better teachers and learners.”