NAPLES — It has been a special month for SAD 61’s Lisa Caron.

Caron, who has been the Lake Region School District’s director of special services for 13 years, watched the first group of students that she had as kindergartners graduate from high school this year. And last week, she received the award for Special Education Administrator of the Year from the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities.

In her role, Caron manages more than 100 staff members in a department that serves about 375 students.

She said she was “humbled and overwhelmed” by her award.

“There’s more than 150 special ed directors (in the state) … So for my group to nominate me to the board and be chosen is, again, very humbling. It’s a true blessing … all directors work really, really hard and do the best they can do. But it’s humbling,” she said.

She also credits her staff, saying her recognition is a reflection of their hard work. “It’s because of them that I continue to do what I do,” Caron said. “They really are an amazing group of people.”

Caron lives in Raymond, and spoke with the Lakes Region Weekly about her job and recent recognition.

Q: What drew you to special education in the first place?

A: My senior year in college, I actually had an opportunity to start a minor, and special ed had been in law for less than 10 years at that point. And I started with one class – I had a professor that told me I had a gift in working with individuals with disabilities. So right out of college, my first job was special ed. I’ve always worked in special ed. Fourteen years in, I got my masters degree in special ed, and then I got my administrator certificate. So 33 years later, that’s what I’ve done, is special ed.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of the job?

A: Watching the kids who are exiting our district via graduation or they’ve aged out at 20 … watching them actually bring closure to their time with us, but knowing that they are as ready as we could possible help them to be to whatever their next life journey is, whether it’s college, workforce, or for some individuals it’s care … It’s really seeing them finish knowing they have accomplished a lot and with a ton of hurdles and barriers that disabilities put in front of us to get through the educational life that they have

So this year, I got to watch the kids that were in kindergarten when I got here, they actually graduated this year. So for me, that was feeling like I had gone full circle in the district, and it was quite a blessing to be able to watch them get their diplomas this year.

Q: Is there anything that stands out as the biggest challenge of the job?

A: There’s always challenges. I would say the biggest challenge right now is probably no different for me than it is for any other district or director in Maine or across the nation. There is a lack of folks that are choosing to go into the field of special educati0n. So staying fully staffed can be challenging. And, retaining  quality programs offered to our students but being fiscally responsible to the community and taxpayers at the same time.

Q: What would you say to encourage people who may be considering a career in education, or specifically special education?

A: I would tell them to find a way to have some experience with that work – so, for example, substituting or asking to come in to observe or to volunteer, but to really have a really good feel for what working in special ed might include. I don’t think there’s any type of training that’s better than on the job.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

SAD 61 Special Services Director Lisa Caron, left, received the Special Education Administrator of the Year award from the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities last week. Pat Menzel of the MADSEC Representatives Board presented the award.