This summer, Paulette DiNardo will become Hopewell Valley Regional School District’s (HVRSD) Director of Pupil Services. The District’s special education teachers and support professionals (i.e. school nurses, psychologists, and speech, physical, and occupational therapists) are supervised by this position. Since Dr. Celeste Curley retired from the position in June 2015, after being in the role for 15 years, Dr. Deborah Batchelor has functioned as Interim Director.
Becoming the next Director of Pupil Services is not only a professional achievement, it is also personal. DiNardo had two aunts (sisters), born with intellectual disabilities, who were sent to live at Pittsburgh’s Polk Center, an institution. They were not educated, but rather were tasked with caring for others living there. After spending half their lives at Polk, the two were released during the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s, but with no learned life skills (i.e. reading, writing, money management), they were dependent on family for help. At nine-years-old, while her parents made sure her aunts had food and a clean apartment, DiNardo’s weekly job was to count their money and read their mail to them.
“I truly feel they are why I do what I am doing. Nobody was there to educate them. I knew as a young child that their life should have been much fuller. I don’t want that to happen to any child.”
Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, DiNardo thought she wanted to be a professional musician and enrolled at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music after high school. She was in her third year when she took a class in the university’s special education department. “Within the first 5 minutes of the class, I knew I wasn’t going to play my flute for a living.”
Soon after finishing her music degree, she obtained an emergency teaching certification, found a job in a Pittsburgh school teaching K-8th grade special education students and enrolled in Duquesne University’s graduate program. With a master’s degree in Education and certification in Special Education, she and her new husband moved to New Jersey where she began working as a transition teacher at West Windsor-Plainsboro (WW-P) Regional School District High School South. As a transition teacher, she functioned as a liaison between the community and school, supporting her special education students in competitive employment by setting up job interviews, teaching interview and job skills, and providing on-site job coaching.
She and her husband moved to Cincinnati, OH for two years where she taught students with mild to severe disabilities, in a resource room environment, but was back at WW-P in various positions until she was hired by the HVRSD in 2009. At that time, she became the teacher for Central High School’s Academic Essentials program where she exposed special education students to the curriculum, as much as possible, and taught transition-related skills (ie. job, social, and effective communication skills). In 2014, she became the Supervisor of Special Education pre-K through 12th grade. Additionally, for the past 15 years, DiNardo has been an Adjunct Professor of Special Education for Rider University’s graduate program.
When asked what the future holds under her leadership, DiNardo said that she is looking forward to continuing the piloted writing program for K-8th grades being held in the resource rooms and special classes. “I’m also working on developing a systematic approach to writing skills for our students who struggle in that area.” Last, she hopes to expand family supports for parents (i.e. parent information programs) and siblings (i.e. sibling group or lecture series) of kids with special needs.
Whatever she implements in the district, it is certain that it will be inspired by her aunts whose picture sits on her office desk.