COLCHESTER — Described a “a quiet and humble leader” by her coworkers, Jean Shea is an educator who goes above in beyond in her service to students.
That’s why Shea, director of student support services at Colchester High School, was awarded the Outstanding Professional Award from KidSafe Collaborative, a Chittenden County non-profit that works to improve the county’s prevention of and response to child abuse and neglect.
The award is given annually to an individual with over 10 years of professional experience, who demonstrates outstanding service toward improving the safety and well-being of children in the community.
Shea was nominated for the award by her coworkers, including CHS Principal Heather Baron and Carrie Lutz, Colchester School District’s director of special education.
“Anytime you meet with Jean, she puts everything back to what’s best for kids,” Lutz said. “She sees everything through that lens, and that’s why it was a no-brainer for us to nominate her.”
After receiving an undergraduate degree in psychology and completing a master’s program, Shea, who lives in Fairfax, came to CHS in 1999 as a special education teacher. She was later promoted to the position of team leader.
Her interest in special education and mental health stems from volunteer work she did after college, at a residential treatment facility in upstate New York for adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.
“It’s something I’ve always been drawn to, and I started that work at a really young age,” she said.
Since starting at CHS, Shea has transitioned from teacher to administrator, a career decision that she said was based on her desire to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of students.
“When you’re a teacher, your impact is fairly limited, but as an administrator, I can influence and be a part of systemic change,” she said.
As Director of Student Support Services at CHS, Shea oversees a variety of programs and staff, including special educators, behavioral therapists, speech language pathologists and guidance counselors.
Three of her coworkers wrote recommendation letters that were included in Shea’s nomination packet for the award.
“As a law enforcement officer for the last 26 years, it is very easy to get into the mindset where the world seems like a hopeless place,” Corporal Mark Jacobs, school resource officer, wrote in his letter. “Jean has helped me to see how students can succeed in spite of their struggles. Her strong belief in their potential inspires me every day.”
Amber Keep, the special education team leader at CHS, shared that she and Shea have worked together for the last seven years. During that time, Keep has seen Shea build strong connections with students.
“Jean is there to listen when a student needs someone to talk to,” Keep wrote. “Many of these students come back to visit and check in with her long after they graduate from high school. This demonstrates what an important part she serves in each child’s life.”
Superintendent Amy Minor also wrote a letter of recommendation for Shea. Minor believes CHS has become a better place since Shea’s arrival, because of the way she uses research and data-based judgement to develop plans.
“Without Jean, I am not sure that the tremendous positive change in school climate, decrease in discipline and the rise in student achievement would have occurred,” Minor wrote.
Shea has been instrumental in CSD’s collaborations with Centerpoint, an organization that offers treatment and education to children and families faced with emotional, behavioral, mental health, substance abuse or special learning needs.
A few years ago, Shea helped organize the Changes program, which she said grew out of her concern for students who have high expectations of themselves and who experience incredible amounts of stress.
“They too needed mental health support or strategies to manage the stress and expectations that were on them,” she said. “I think we maybe haven’t always been so good at recognizing those students.”
A clinician from Centerpoint is now available to help students learn stress management techniques. And more recently, the district has started extending those resources to families, so that students can have the same support at home.
Shea says she currently spends most of her time thinking about the impact of the pandemic of students’ social and emotional learning.
“How we will respond to that weighs heavy on my mind,” she said.
Her task now is to ensure that, when the time comes, the transition back to full-time, in-person learning is as easy as possible.
“It will be a two-pronged approach,” she said. “I’ll ask, ‘What are we missing here? What don’t we have?’ and then adjust from there.”
Shea was adamant that she is appreciative of the award from KidSafe Collaborative, but that she’s been so successful because of her team.
“I do feel like this award really is indicative of the team of people that I have been so blessed to work with,” she said.
Shea and other KidSafe Collaborative award recipients will be honored in a virtual ceremony April 27. The event will be hosted by standup comic and Moth StorySLAM producer, Sue Schmidt.