Jessica Dickson is an associate education officer for special education who works out of a DOE office building in Long Island City.
What do you do as an education officer?
I support a team of professional development facilitators for special education. A big part of the job is promoting the workshops to teachers and schools via DOE newsletters, workshop catalogs and email blasts. I also compile data on our workshops. Sometimes I help out with finding a location for a workshop — we not only hold them at schools and libraries, but sometimes at a Barnes & Noble bookstore or the American Museum of Natural History.
Tell me more about the workshops.
I don’t develop content for the workshops — that’s the job of the facilitators. They select topics that support teachers and other school staff working with students with disabilities. We invite everyone to the workshops — general and special education teachers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists and others.
How did you become an education officer?
I started the job in November 2012, after working at a foundation for nursing education. I have a passion for education policy, and working at the DOE helps me pursue that passion. For example, I participate in working groups that analyze how schools can better prepare incoming kindergartners and how schools can help students transition from high school to college and careers. I’m not an expert on those issues, but the job has given me the opportunity to be part of the solution.
What makes the job appealing to you?
I frequently receive projects that require a new approach or format, and that’s a challenge I like. Also, I love to collaborate with others on the initial concept of a plan and then work on building out the timeline for how the plan can be implemented.
What’s your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge can be gauging whether we have reached schools so they know about all the opportunities we offer. There’s a lot of competition for their attention, given the many newsletters and other communications they receive. We post resources on the DOE Internet and intranet sites, and then send those links to schools via newsletters. We also have a professional development website where people can register online and browse the calendar for available workshops.
What’s frustrating about the job?
My office often asks other divisions to include information on our workshops in their newsletters. The other divisions have limited space to include our information, yet those newsletters can have the broadest reach in terms of a school audience. It can also be difficult finding enough space for workshops.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud of the teamwork in my office. I work with a very dedicated group of professional development facilitators. We work toward goals and deadlines together. I am also proud of my work with the vendors who augment our professional development offerings with their own workshops. I ensure that their contracts are adhered to and that we meet their logistical needs.
What would surprise people the most about your work?
I think they’d be surprised about the depth and range we offer in terms of workshops. In addition to workshops on writing quality Individualized Education Programs and working with students with various disabilities, there are workshops on positive behavior supports in the classroom, reading supports for learners at all levels, and college and career readiness.
What would you like people to understand about your job?
The end goal is all about supporting teachers to help students with disabilities achieve in the classroom.
How many education officers are there at the DOE?
The UFT’s Education Officer/Education Analyst Chapter has about 240 members. We have a new newsletter and a new section on the UFT website. It’s very much a blossoming phase, with members getting to know each other better and learning more about each other’s varied roles at the DOE. I am excited to see the chapter grow and proud to be part of this community.
— As told to reporter Linda Ocasio