One of Waco Independent School District’s top administrators will be leaving at the end of this month, Waco ISD spokesperson Kyle DeBeer said Monday.
Dana Pate, the district’s special education director, will officially retire at the end of the calendar year, but her last day will be Dec. 19, as the district heads into its two-week winter break between semesters, he said. She has been with the district for about five years, she said.
Pate’s departure has nothing to do with the recent scrutiny her department has faced across the local, state and federal levels, she said. Pate has actually been considering retirement for the past four years, but a recent meeting at Region 12’s Education Service Center about the state’s teacher retirement system and a desire to spend more time with family made the decision final, she said.
“You get to an age where your focus of what’s important changes, and I’m there. I’m almost 60 and it’s just time,” Pate said. “I prayed about it, thought about it. It’s just right.”
Throughout the last year, Waco ISD’s special education department has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights because of alleged retaliation claims by a district employee and the possibility of misidentifying Hispanic children with dyslexia.
The Texas Education Agency has also recently considered reprimanding the district because of its low performance scores on state exams for special education students, causing Superintendent. A. Marcus Nelson to call for the department to make major improvements going forward.
But the district’s been actively working to address the issues, and Pate said she doesn’t know of any district’s special education department that hasn’t faced some sort of scrutiny at some point.
“This is not new to me. This is what special education directors do, and it’s always anticipated in the job,” Pate said. “It’s just unfortunate this happened at the time I’m about to retire.”
She said the department has made major changes since she started.
Pate’s biggest accomplishment was addressing discipline disproportionality, after Waco ISD was reprimanded by the TEA in 2014 for placing black students in the district’s alternative education program at a rate higher than other groups, she said.
She brought in Trudy Bender, the district’s behavior intervention coordinator, and trained educators in restorative discipline procedures to ensure the problem does not arise again, Pate said. Because of this, the district is no longer disproportionate and the TEA is no longer scrutinizing the issue in Waco ISD, Bender said in October.
“The last three years, that rate has come down and come down, and this year we’re below the threshold and the TEA is no longer looking at that for our district,” Bender said at the time. “We still have disproportionality in some areas, but in terms of out-of-school suspension rates with students of color and students of disabilities, we’ve reduced that below the threshold the TEA sets.”
That’s a huge accomplishment for a district that was once just sending students to the alternative education program without using best practices for discipline intervention, Pate said.
Until Pate’s replacement is hired, the special education department will operate under an interim director, DeBeer said. The interim director is yet to be named, and the full-time job has already been posted online, he said.
The district hopes to have a new full-time director named by not long after officials start looking at the applicant pool after the next 30 days, he said. The position’s salary starts at $81,016, according to the online job posting.
With her last day fast approaching, Pate said she looks forward to spending more time with her two grandchildren and traveling while she’s still young enough and healthy enough to do so, she said with a laugh.
And as for the person who comes behind her, she offered this advice: “First and foremost, you have to have a compassion for the children we serve. Always remember behind every child there is a family, and that family needs our support, that family needs our advocacy and that family needs us to never give up because these children can accomplish great things.”