As we start back up with the new school year, CCSD21 will be featuring a staff member each month, highlighting their background and their “Why.” We hope this feature will help you get to know our staff members better and relate to their passion for being part of the D21 family.
When you meet Colleen Connolly, you are immediately struck by her enthusiasm and energy for the work she does. She is a smiley, bundle of joy with an amusing sense of humor. As a student services coordinator, her wit comes in handy when dealing with students with behavior needs as it’s not always easy when children are in crisis. Her temperament for this type of work started early on. In 8th grade, she took a job at a day camp, working with children who were wheelchair bound and have other special needs. That job – at such a young age – sparked her interest in and drove her to this special occupation. “I knew back then that it was my calling,” said Colleen. She went on to study special education at ISU and then to graduate school at Governers State University to study Educational Leadership. She worked as a 6th grade special ed teacher in Plainfield for nine years and then was promoted to the assistant principal where she oversaw the language arts and special ed departments. Shortly thereafter, she was elevated again to principal where she served for three years. After that, she started looking for a change, which came in the form of a student services coordinator at District 21.
Her role is to support the special education teachers and assist with building leadership when there are student needs. She helps answer questions and creates IEPs (Individual Education Plans) to strengthen students’ success in the general classroom setting. Sometimes, it merely involves looking at the students’ learning environments. Sometimes, it’s more complicated.
Over the last year, she was able to help a kindergartener who was hitting others and in crisis by connecting with the mother and working with her to understand why this behavior was not school appropriate. “We worked with occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists and were able to build a relationship with the student’s mother. By teaching and bringing mom along in our plan, we were able to show her that another program in a different school had the support her child needed in order to be successful where he would be getting more teacher time and added resources,” said Colleen. Now, the student is learning and behaving more appropriately. “Mom is sending me photos and giving me regular updates on his progress.” That’s the gift. That’s the Why.
In her spare time, Colleen is earning her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at Concordia. She enjoys traveling, especially to London, where she spent a significant amount of time. She is very close to her family, living within a mile of her parents. She also serves as an wedding officiant – again, bringing people together for good. “There is so much bad in the world right now…I’ve been blessed and fortunate in my life. I like to leave the world a little better than I found it and that’s always a good day for me,” said Colleen.
District 21 is blessed and fortunate to have Colleen Connolly in our family… and for us, that’s always a good day.