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Meet Heather Ouzts, NCDPI Parent Liaison

Heather Ouzts photo Heather Ouzts, Parent Liaison

NCDPI Exceptional Children Division

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” (Jobs, 2005)

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to find my passion —helping families of students with disabilities. I have spent most of my life caring for children whether it was at work, church, or in my own home. As a mother of four children and as an employee in the schools, I learned that ALL children have special needs; some needs are just more easily seen. As a mother of a child with a disability, I learned that ALL parents have needs as well. In my work as a parent liaison, I have the great opportunity of trying to help schools meet the unique needs of both their students and their parents.

I first discovered my love for working with families as the parent liaison for the Exceptional Children Department of Alamance-Burlington School System in 2012. For three years, I worked with families, schools, and community partners to provide educational opportunities and resources for parents and build partnerships in our community. In August of 2015, I began a new position as the parent liaison within the Exceptional Children Division at the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). As a member of the Policy, Monitoring and Audit Section, I was specifically hired to support families of students with disabilities in North Carolina’s public schools.

Along with our Dispute Resolution Consultants, I do take questions from parents regarding special education services and policies. They may be looking for resources or want to know who to talk to about a certain issue. Parents may have concerns or questions regarding how the school is implementing the IEP or what the parent can do if they have a disagreement with the school regarding their child’s special education services. Sometimes the parent wants to know what their rights are as a parent of a student with a disability. As a liaison, I work with both the parents and the schools to make sure the parents’ questions and/or concerns are addressed.

My work at NCDPI also allows me the opportunity to provide professional development and technical assistance to school districts and charter schools on parent engagement. We are currently working to increase the number of parent liaisons and parent advisory councils available in local school districts and charters across the state. I participate on committees working on issues related to transition, surrogate parent guidance, and the School Mental Health Initiative. I also support the Council on Educational Services for Exceptional Children, the advisory council to the State Board of Education.

One of the best things about this position is that I do get to collaborate across the Division and work with so many families and schools across the state. I am always learning something new. Honestly, I have been amazed and encouraged by the efforts of so many here at NCDPI to continue to improve outcomes for all students. There is a lot of “heart” behind the hard work that I witness each day and, as a parent of a child with a disability, it fills me with hope for the future as we strive to meet the needs of students and families.

We must continue our efforts to educate families. I am a firm believer that when everyone can come to the IEP table with knowledge about the strengths and needs of the student, along with an understanding of the special education process, we will have better outcomes for students. It is critical for schools and families to improve communication and build relationships in order to meet the needs of both the student and the parents. It can make all the difference.

It really is great work… and I love it!

Parents can reach me at:

Tel: (919) 807-3989 ~ Fax: (919) 807-3243

Visit us on the web at www.ncpublicschools.org

References: Jobs, S. (2005, June 15). Stanford Commencement Address. Retrieved from Apple Matters:

http://www.applematters.com/article/steve_jobs_standford_commencement_address/

Be a smart information consumer

Yesterday I was reading an on-line newsletter and my ADHD led me to the  BLOG post of a parent who wanted help getting her child an IEP at school.  Although well-intended, some of the replies contained inaccurate or misleading information.  I felt motivated to respond to this parent myself to clear up a couple of things and direct her to a more reliable source of information.  I’m sure that every day there are countless people who are in search of information through lots of different channels.  The key is to consider your source, maintain a healthy questioning attitude, and trust your instincts.  I’ll speak to each of these points.

circular image of question marks around the word knowledgeWhat is the source of the information?  By talking to other parents you can get the support of others who can relate to your situation.  They can tell you about their experiences and share what they have learned along the way.  Keep in mind that they, like everyone, see he world through their own lenses, and their child is not your child.  There may be some distinct differences in their circumstances that would make your experience very different than theirs, even if things sound similar initially.  When dealing with professionals it is important to keep in mind that no one knows everything.  Sometimes classroom teachers give medical advice and school administrators speculate about possible mental health diagnoses.  In this type of situation, you most likely have a professional who has moved outside their area of expertise.  Even when professionals are operating within their official roles, they are not all going to be equally competent or well-informed.

Don’t believe everything that you hear.   Sometimes people give out misinformation because they, themselves, are misinformed.  This happens with both parents and professionals.  Sometimes information gets passed from person to person to person, and things get distorted along the way.  Sometimes people have a piece of the picture, but not the whole story.  It’s okay to ask people where they got their information.  If someone cites a rule, policy or law (“we have to…” or “we’re not allowed to…”), ask them to either show it to you in writing or direct you to where you can read it for yourself.  Another challenge is to separate fact from opinion and emotion.  For example, a frustrated parent may tell you that he or she did not get any results until they contacted the Superintendent, and suggest that you do the same thing.  The reality may be that  the parent skipped several steps in the chain of command and that you may very well be able to resolve your issue by communicating with the right person within the school.

Trust your instincts!   If someone tells you something that doesn’t make sense, doesn’t seem right, or doesn’t fit with other things that you know, look a little closer and get more information.  If the source has a reason to be biased, try to get additional information from a neutral source.  If you’re not quite sure about the source’s knowledge base, check with another reputable source whose expertise you are confident about.  Above all, don’t ever substitute someone else’ judgement for your own, especially when it comes to what’s best for your child.