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Terri Lynne Ricetti and her team quickly found new ways to reach special education students during the pandemic.
Ricetti responds to needs of SPED students
June 27, 2022
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Name: Terri Lynne Ricetti Award: Special Education Administrator of the Year Title: Executive Director of Special Education, Napa Valley USD ACSA highlights: Member since 2012; Student Services and Special Education Council (2020–present); ANCSA President (2019–present).
The most important work in education is most often not done in the spotlight or the public eye, but behind the scenes by dedicated, forward-thinking individuals committed to student success. Terri Lynne Ricetti, executive director of Special Education in the Napa Valley USD, is one of these leaders, working tirelessly to assure that the needs of the special education students in her district are met, no matter the circumstances or challenges.
Ricetti has worked in special education since early in her career, first as a teacher in Los Gatos Union SD, as well as a general education teacher in that district, and then as special education teacher, supervisor, coordinator, director and finally executive director in Napa Valley, beginning in 2017. Her approach is to tackle a problem head-on with thoughtful, collaborative solutions that will create lasting impact in the long term. Whether she is improving paraeducator staffing with better job descriptions or addressing Due Process and Mediation procedures to make them more efficient, Ricetti strives to create the most balanced and workable approach for all stakeholders.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly shut down schools and forced students to learn from home, Ricetti led her department to act with agility and promptness, creating and distributing Continued Learning Packets to families, leveraging tools like DocuSign for IEP compliance, and partnering with advocacy groups like Parents Can to provide Zoom trainings for parents. Special education students who chose to return to in-person learning came back in October 2020, leading the way for general education to reopen in the district.
“As our district faces declining enrollment coupled with increasing needs and demands for special education services, Ms. Ricetti continues to be responsive and flexible in the ever-changing, high pressure environment we are working in,” wrote Napa Valley USD Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti. “She strives to strike a balance between building the most effective special education service delivery models while paying close attention to fiscal constraints and pressures. This is never an easy task, but she handles the demands with poise, professionalism and clarity.”
What’s your favorite quote on leadership? My favorite quote is from Brené Brown: “Write a new ending for yourself, for the people you’re meant to serve and support, and for your culture.” There are beliefs and assumptions that are routinely attached to the lives of people with disabilities as well as to the intention of those who support them. It is my belief we can be agents in the change of our own ending and of the endings for those we serve and support.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? The best leadership advice I was ever given was given to me by Dr. Ashley Halliday. Early in my career, I was very task oriented. He was helping me to focus my work from building programs to building relationships. He told me to imagine every conversation I was having was a part of my next job interview. Really thinking about every single conversation as a relationship-building opportunity changed my leadership.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? I truly believe that mindfulness training should be a part of every new administrator program. We spend time preparing for these roles by learning the content. That is important, however, I have yet to meet a new administrator that was prepared for the intricacies of supporting not only the students but also the adults that they work with. It is a vital part of what we do and if we aren’t ready to breathe through the work, it can take a toll.
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I am truly an introvert at heart. I come from a large, loud family and I married into a large, loud family. My recharge comes from finding a cozy spot to read or curl up to truly awful television.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are? I have the wonderful opportunity to do what I do in the town where I live currently and where I went to high school. Two of my brothers also live here, as well as their children. I really had to understand that it is all connected and be OK with that. I have walked into rooms with my high school teachers. I’ve had the opportunity to support the children of my classmates from high school, as well as children my sons would have at our house. When you are this connected to the community that you serve, every moment is a part of your role as a school administrator.
What are you most proud of accomplishing? I work with an outstanding group of people. I have seen their commitment to students and each other through fires, power shut-off days and earthquakes. I am most proud of what we accomplished for students who require the services of special education during the past three years and, in particular, during the first six months of the pandemic. Within the first week, they showed up to help create, both digitally and in pencil/paper, activities for students to continue educational progress. Within the first eight weeks, we were able to work with our local parent advocacy organization to support families in accessing Zoom so we could continue to hold IEP meetings in a meaningful way. Within 12 weeks, we had created protocols so that in-person assessment would be able to be implemented in August, and in August, we did it. We were the first group of students to return to in-person learning in our district in October of 2020. It was a wild ride and I have never been so in awe of what an amazing group of people could do working together.
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? I’ve been fortunate to be involved with ACSA from the start of my administrative years. The opportunity to network through the Every Child Counts Symposium, the Special Education Academy and our Region 4 meetings have been so supportive. As a new member of the Student Services and Special Education Committee, I appreciate being in a room with people that I have looked up to for advice and guidance.
This past month I was able to participate in the North State Conference for the first time and it was exactly what I needed at a time that I needed it. The work we do is so different and the only other people who will understand are other school administrators. ACSA not only provides us with the content we need but also the ability to connect with those who will help us process it.
Terri Lynne Ricetti and family.
Special Education Administrator of the Year Terri Lynne Ricetti.