Community

Mercer Island School District special education director worked to create opportunities for all learners

When educator Pat Turner received her invitation to the annual PTA awards held recently, she was told she needed to be there because her longtime colleague and friend, Kathy Morrison, was to receive a special award. Morrison said she was told the same tale — she needed to be there as her friend and colleague, Turner, would receive an award.

At the ceremony, Morrison was recognized with the ‘Outstanding Educator’ award and Turner was named ‘Outstanding Advocate.’

Both have been involved in finding the best ways to educate children of all ages in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. They and their colleagues continually work toward improving educational opportunities for all children.

For Turner, the work of a special educator goes beyond providing desks and chairs and computers. It is about orchestrating a thousand tiny details that must be adapted and finely tuned for each child. As each student is different, so also are their needs that are both basic and complex, highly personal and often challenging.

Such as where and how do they use the toilet to the administration of drugs and therapy for students during the school day. They involve the usual transportation issues, but also work with contractors and builders for facilities to the training of staff to use technology or to recognize and deal with a student seizure.

These details must be attended to before the work of schooling can even begin.

Pat Turner has been with the school district for 19 years and the director of the special education department for the past seven. She has juggled the myriad aspects of working with youth and their parents by virtue of her sheer will, organizational skills and background as a psychologist. She has solved problems both emotional and physical and has been rewarded with success.

She has supervised some 21 teachers and dozens of paraprofessionals and other specialists ranging from physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, nurses and others.

Originally from  California, she holds degrees from Claremont College, Whitman College, and earned her school administrator credentials from the University of Washington. She is licensed as a school district administrator and school psychologist. She worked for a time as a fundraiser and full time for Camp Fire USA.

When asked if she can list her greatest accomplishment or her favorite program, she demurs.

“It is like asking me if I have a favorite child,” she said. Each program comes from a need, and I like problem solving. It is so satisfying to get things done.”

She is proud of the people and the programs that have come from the idea that all children are entitled to an education regardless of their abilities or challenges. The key, she said, is hiring the best.

“It is these people who make me look good,” she said of her staff.

She is pleased that during her tenure, she has been able to be part of the school district offering a free and appropriate education for all students.

“I am proud that at each school in our district, we have a full continuum of services for all of our students, from age 3 to 21,” she said. “We now have a program for students who are over 18 at PEAK. It is a program that helps students find work in the community and manage their lives outside school.”

Turner and her family moved to the Island as a result of relentless lobbying by former Mercer Island School District administrator, Mike Soltman, for her to work here. Her two grown sons, Marshall, 29, and Russell, 26, who both graduated from Island schools and Western Washington University, live and work in the area.

She said that she has loved every job she has held, but as new opportunities are presented, she looks forward to the next. Up next for the educator is the presidency of the Mercer Island Rotary Club, where she will preside over the 50th anniversary of the Island club. Later she will head to Ethiopia to help inoculate children against polio and to Australia for the international Rotary convention.

She intends to take classes, play golf and exercise and “do things that ordinary people do during the daytime.”

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