New director of student services applies open-door policy
You can see it in his eyes and you can hear it in his voice. “It’s rewarding,” Duva said, “those little steps that you have to recognize and celebrate and that’s the piece I like most about special education.”
It was true for his seven years in the classroom and it remains true today at the district level in Woonsocket. It’s a trait that parents at Melrose and Lawn Avenue schools should expect to see as well.
Duva worked in the North Kingstown School District for nine years in special education. He began as a resource teacher at Davisville School in grades K-3. From there he was given a contained classroom at Quidnessett School for students on the autism spectrum, non-verbal disabilities, and Down syndrome. He said that the three-year position was one that he loved.
“It was a challenge,” he said. “I was able to grow within my teaching, working with the students and the families.” For part of the time, Duva’s classroom “served as a model classroom for the state, teaching students with autism,” he said.
Sue Constable, on staff with the Rhode Island Technical Assistant Project and currently leading the Autism Certification Program in Rhode Island, made use of Duva’s model classroom in her efforts to empower teachers to better serve students with autism, according to Duva.
After seven years in the classroom, and following a one-month stint starting a program for high functioning students on the autism spectrum, Duva was hired as special education administrator in North Kingstown. He served as the preschool administrator managing early intervention and outreach programs. He explained that his chief responsibilities included “getting the preschool programs up to date with state initiatives, progress monitoring and training around the standards.”
Under Rachel Santa, the former director of special education, Duva earned increased responsibilities that included oversight of district students who were served in out-of-district settings, and running the summer programs for students of all ages. He was in the position for two years.
Duva described his interest in the Woonsocket position: “I wanted to get into more of an assistant’s or director’s role and my thought was, follow the proper channels.” He added, “I want to make sure that I learned the system, have the knowledge to step into the position to kind of follow the continuum.”
He explained that he was in part motivated by the city location and nature of the population. Duva added that the district-wide nature of the job was also attractive. He is responsible for 1,500 students who are identified as students with special needs from pre-kindergarten to seniors in high school. The district serves 6,000 students in total.
Duva’s cadence quickened when he described his job. “At any given time I could be anywhere in the district, sitting in on any type of meeting and anyone could be calling.”
He regrets that the work requires more of a reactive approach than he would like, but he added that reactivity or quick problem solving can set the stage for future planning. Duva said that reactivity is part of every job and that one can learn from reactive problem solving and put a plan in place to address similar situations in the future.
As Duva began to talk about his new position in Jamestown he noted that the current structure for serving students with special needs appears to be ideal. He said that staff can be used in a variety of ways to meet the needs of students.
He said, “I look at [students with special needs] as regular education students first and the special piece is [adding] those supports to enhance their learning and to provide the extra support they need.”
Duva believes that his knowledge and experience with the North Kingstown School District will serve his Jamestown graduates well as they prepare for the transition to high school.
Duva said that parents and colleagues at Jamestown schools can expect him to continue to maintain his open-door policy.
“You can call me anytime, you can come see me, e-mail me,” he said. “I am here to work with you for what is best for your kids.” He said that building positive trusting relationships that work both ways is vital to serving students well.
Putting students first in the context of responsible budget management is his goal as well. He said that he has yet to face a student problem that could not be addressed simply due to the lack of funds.
Raised in an extended family of educators in Providence, Duva graduated from Classical High School and attended Rhode Island College. He attended the school at the same time as his wife Caite, but it wasn’t until they were teachers in North Kingstown that they met and fell in love. Caite is a fourth-grade teacher at Horace Park in North Kingstown.
An avid skier, Ken learned when he was 5 and he’s looking forward to taking his girls, Abigail, 5, Hannah, 3, and Caylin, 2, to the Yagoo ski area when the timing is right.
Duva said that he is looking forward to starting at Jamestown in July. He sees a unique opportunity to make good use of his administrative skill set while at the same time regaining the proximity to students that he is currently missing.
Duva was quick to point out that everyone has been great and that the current director, Gwen Spence, is helping to insure a positive transition.
Duva said that he is looking forward to working through local and state challenges together with parents. He explained that at Woonsocket he maintains a Web site that is updated monthly providing information and ideas to best serve families. He added that structures already in place such as the Special Education Local Advisory Committee are important tools in communication with parents.
“As the information comes out, you let them know what’s going on and you make sure that they understand,” he said. “I am big on making family-friendly brochures so that parents have an understanding of special education and all of the processes.”