Who

are they?

The SPEDucator Project is made up of incredible Hawai‘i DOE special education teachers selected for their passion, ingenuity, and excellence in the field of special education.

These “SPEDucators” advocate for equity to better serve special education students, parents, and their communities. The goal is to change the narrative and improve educational outcomes and livelihoods for individuals with disabilities.

Follow the SPEDucators at @Some1Special808 or visit bit.ly/speducator-website.

SPEDucators giving a shaka

Headline

Brandon Moises

Kaua‘i Complex
Waimea High School
Career & Life Planning / Department Chair
21 years as a SPED Teacher

Brandon MoisesBorn and raised on Kaua‘i, I knew early on that I wanted to be a teacher. My passion for teaching was always something I enjoyed doing whether it was in the classroom or in the sports arena as a coach. For the past 20 years, I have enjoyed working with our students with disabilities as recognized under IDEA. I have taught the ALC, inclusion, and pullout classes during my years of teaching. I take pride in building positive relationships with these students and guiding them. Through this, I have watched the majority of our special education students not only meet their educational goals as listed in their IEP’s but more importantly build confidence in their abilities and believe that “the mind can move mountains.” To see these students tear the label of being SPED and become successful is what drives me everyday to be a special education teacher. Being in the special education classroom, designing and implementing Individualized Education Plans, working with parents, and watching the desired outcomes become reality is such a powerful thing to witness! Knowing that each individual learns and is motivated in its’ own way is something that I have carried into my coaching approach as well!

My belief in what we do as Special Education Teachers motivates me everyday! To watch these students stand proud as they receive their Diplomas, and to follow up with them for their post high school survey and hear them tell me they are successful in college, or the military, or have a career in a field they love gives me “chicken skin” just thinking about the process!

Charmaine Nuesca-Ganer

Lahainaluna – Hāna – Moloka‘i – Lāna‘i
Lahaina Intermediate / Maui
Life Skills/Resource — 6,7 & 8th
Fully Self Contained (FSC)
5 Years Teaching

Charmaine Nuesca-GanerI am a middle school special education teacher in a full inclusion life skills classroom. Growing up in a small, close town in Lahaina gave me the opportunity to have a passion for helping others in need. College was never an option for me. After high school my parents needed financial help so I went to work to help.

When my third child was diagnosed with a learning disability I decided to go to college and get my teaching degree. It took a long time, but it was worth the time and effort.

I worked as a paraprofessional for sixteen years and as a special education teacher for five years now. My passion for teaching started with my daughter and the struggles she endured as a special education child. She poured her heart and soul into her learning but she could never master the struggles of remembering what she studied. She gave 120% in everything she did, she had the best attitude in any situation. Watching her struggle made me want to help even more. But she taught me that if I only looked at the limitation of her disability I couldn’t see the person she really was. While in middle school she learned to organize herself, she pushed past her disability and lived her dreams of becoming class president, Jr. prom queen, attended college, and even ran for Miss Maui.

I love working with middle school students and more so those within my community, partly because I grew up with their family members, and the other part being that they are still children at heart.

Cheryl Goo

Pearl City – Waipahu Complex
Kanoelani Elementary, O‘ahu
Special Education Teacher, 3rd Grade
6 Years Teaching

Cheryl GooMy name is Cheryl. This is my fifth year as a special education teacher at Kanoelani Elementary School. I have experience working in fully self-contained, resource, and inclusion classroom settings. My decision to become a special education teacher was influenced by one of my children, who struggled in school and was diagnosed with multiple disabilities. I felt I needed to be able to advocate for him and students like him. I also wanted to support parents like me, once intimidated by the special education process. Through my own child's struggles, I found my profession and passion as an educator. Being a special education teacher lets me be creative with the curriculum, individualize instruction, and target what students need most. The ability to advocate for meaningful learning opportunities for students is what motivates me in my work. Being a teacher is a tough job that requires effective communication and collaboration. Kanoelani Elementary emphasizes, “We>Me.” This is not just a motto but the heart of our school's culture. I feel teamwork, collaboration, and involvement by all team members, including parents and students, is essential to the intent of special education. Working at a school that values similar expectations makes my job a little easier.

Detina Smith

Leilehua – Mililani – Wailua Complex
Mililani Waena Elementary, O‘ahu
Special Education Teacher, K–5
Fully Self-Contained (FSC)
10th year teaching

Detina SmithBorn and raised in NY, I made the decision to move to Hawai‘i and teach for the Hawai‘i Department of Education in July of 2012. I found a home at Mililani Waena Elementary (MWES), where I teach the fully self-contained classroom.

Originally, Special Education was not my game plan. I started college with the plan to teach H.S. English. At this time, I worked in a daycare part-time. There was a little boy who was in Special Education who had some tough behaviors. Most of the teachers struggled to work with him but we formed a bond and I was able to help him work on his behaviors. After a few more kids like this crossed my path I realized I had a gift for working with children with Special Needs. I changed my major and never looked back. My relationships and ability to connect with my students motivates me to stay in Special Education.

MWES is a wonderful school to work for. They are devoted to providing opportunities for families to interact with the school staff and build a strong school community. There is always something to look forward to whether it be Trick or Treat drive through, Holiday Light Shows, Fun Fair, Spelling Bees, Robotics Club, and so much more! We truly try to make school a place the kids want to be.

Elizabeth Light

Kaimuki Complex
Jefferson Elementary School, O‘ahu
Preschool Special Education
4 years teaching

Elizabeth LightMy name is Elizabeth Light, and I have been a preschool special education teacher for 5 years. For the last 4, I have been teaching at Jefferson Elementary School in Waikiki. At our school, we are lucky to have an enormous campus with lots of space and natural resources. Recently, my class has taken over feeding the fish in our aquaponics center on campus and the children absolutely love it!

I actually decided to become a special education teacher in my last year of college! During student teaching, I was placed in an inclusive preschool classroom. I just felt that instant “click,” and knew that was where I was meant to be. I would even sneak back down to visit during my planning period when I was later assigned to 3rd grade.

While completing my undergraduate program, one of the professors told us to always “presume competence” with our students, which has stuck in my mind ever since. It is my hope to spread that mindset to others both in special and general education when working with students with disabilities. If you let them try maybe they CAN!

Evelyn Gamez

BKM Complex
Maui High School, Maui
Special Ed teacher, Grades 9–12
Functional Life Skills class
6 years

Evelyn GamezI am a Sped Teacher and Care Coordinator for the functional life skills (FLS) class at Maui High School. My responsibilities include creating Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), Behavior Support Plans (BSPs), programming, lessons, and materials. I collect/monitor data, build rapport with students and staff, and ensure students are receiving all services and accommodations delineated in their IEPs. Additionally, I am the Dance Club advisor, member of the Applied Behavior Analysis and SPED Teachers of Students with Significant Needs Professional Learning Communities.

I've been teaching in the Fully-Self Containted (FSC) setting since 2015, and I am most proud of all the success my students have achieved. The progress for the students in my class may be slower in comparison to their gen ed peers, but knowing them for 5 years has given me a different perspective on success. I enjoy my job, my students, my coworkers, and my workplace.

This profession chose me. Previously, I was a skills trainer for a student with severe autism and aggressive behaviors. I relished in the progress of her skills and behavior reduction; she went from being the peer that everyone ran away from to being loved and cared for by peers and staff. I knew immediately I wanted to do the same for more students.

Being a special education teacher in Hawai‘i leads to unique opportunities for student engagement and personal self-care activities. Where else can you literally wash your worries away by jumping into the ocean after work?!

Jenna Oskey

Pearl City – Waipahu Complex
Kanoelani Elementary, O‘ahu
Elementary Inclusion/Resource Special Education Teacher
5 Years Teaching Experience

Jenna OskeyAloha! My name is Jenna Oskey, and I am a special education teacher. While this might seem like a fairly obvious statement, it was not always that clear to me. Throughout my early years working in education, I noticed a great need for special education teachers. So many students and families need an advocate, someone who will be as invested in their nows and their futures as they are. That is what it means to become a special education teacher. And that is why I became one.

I am currently an inclusion special education teacher at Kanoelani Elementary. Kanoelani welcomed me with open arms before I even moved to the beautiful state of Hawai‘i. This enthusiasm, this whole-hearted sincerity, is more than just an attitude at Kanoelani; it is a way of life. And this way of life flows through each member of our community: the staff, the families, and the students. My passion for being a special education teacher has only continued to flourish here and each of these members gives me daily reminders to learn more, care more, and be more (the motto of our school and one of my new favorite outlooks on life) in a way that many other professions never could.

Jessie Ford

Moloka‘i – Lāna‘i – Hāna – Lahainaluna (Canoe Complex)
Molokai High School
Special Education Teacher, 9–12
6 years experience

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Jessie FordAloha! I’m Jessie Ford, and I am a special education teacher in English Language Arts at Molokai High School. I teach resource and inclusion classes for grades 9–12. I’ve been teaching in this position for nearly six years, starting as an emergency hire. My position is rewarding in that I often work with the same students throughout the arc of their high school experience, and benefit from seeing their growth over four years. I like to teach through inquiry, and when students find true curiosity and connections with texts and their own lived experiences, it is truly a rewarding experience! Recently, when doing an inquiry project on the origins of Hawaiian Pidgin English, students made connections with this rich cultural history and their role in preserving it. We celebrate this and other aspects of their cultural identity. Molokai High School is the only public high school on the island, and Molokai is abundant with history and mo‘olelo, or stories to learn. To explore this through the lens of students’ lived experiences is both deep and rewarding, and makes for compelling and dynamic days of work!

Kelsey Komoto

Radford Complex
Hickam Elementary, O‘ahu
Special Education Teacher, Early Childhood Special Education
9 Years Teaching

Kelsey KomotoI am an early childhood special education teacher whose mission is to provide students with a strong educational foundation, while advocating for student equity. Growing up in Honolulu, I struggled in school. It was not until senior year of high school, that I was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder. Starting college, my mother suggested that I should become a special education teacher because she believed that I would be able to empathize with my students and be their champion. After 9 years as a special education teacher, it is true that mothers are always right. My hardships are what ignited my passion, but the students and endless victories are what continue to motivate me. Hickam Elementary serves mainly military families on Honolulu’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Although the population is transient, families are strong in school involvement which leads to classroom/home connections that provide students with a whole-child approach. Outside the classroom, I am also passionate about being a voice and making real change for special education. I am a member of our schools’ Hickam Academic Review Team (H-ART), which allows special education to have a hand in school-based decisions and ensures that equity is maintained in school initiatives.

Kristel Brogdon

Ka‘u – Kea‘au – Pahoa Complex
Kea‘au Middle School, Hawai‘i
Special Education Teacher, 6–8
Fully Self-Contained, Emotional/Behavior
8 Years Teaching Experience

Kristel BrogdonAloha! I am Kristel Brogdon and I have the honor of teaching Hui Ho‘omau, a Fully Self-Contained Emotional/Behavior program at Kea‘au Middle School. I chose to become a special education teacher because I strongly believe that all students deserve to have someone who is going to work hard and be passionate about providing them the best educational experience possible. Ho‘omau means to make good long lasting, and teaching my students the skills to succeed in all areas of their life has become my passion. More than anything, I love watching students who have gone through my class succeed in high school, be able to keep their grades up, play sports, and engage positively in their school community. Knowing that I am making a difference, a lasting impact, on a child’s life is the biggest reward. I started working in the fully self-contained setting as an Educational Assistant while going to college, and I fell in love with the students of the Puna district and the Ka‘u-Kea‘au-Pahoa Complex. Many of our students come from extraordinary backgrounds and have an incredible story to share, and I believe it is my privilege to help them find their voice and the confidence to be the change we need in this world.

Lauren Collier

Windward, O‘ahu
Kāneʻohe Elementary
Inclusion, Resource, FSC
K–6th
9 Years Teaching

Kristel BrogdonI am a proud sped kid turned speducator! I am an active member and advocate of disability culture. I love teaching special education and would never want to do anything else! I have been teaching special education for 9 years in various settings and states. I currently teach special education at Kāneʻohe Elementary school with a wide role. I am the special education department chair and teach students who receive special education services in an inclusion, resource and fully self-contained model. In addition to being a passionate disability advocate, I advocate for place-based learning with the community. I do this by taking advantage of the beautiful aina on the windward side of O‘ahu. My class goes on weekly trips to the lo‘i at Ho‘omaluhia. My favorite part of these trips is that it highlights all of the amazing abilities my students have without needing accommodations.

Leina‘ala Kealoha

Kaua‘i Complex
Kaua‘i High School, Kaua‘i
Inclusion Math, Grades 9–12
Math Workshop, Geometry and Intro to College Math
3 years teaching

Leina‘ala KealohaI am a proud inclusion special education math teacher for grades 9–12 at Kauaʻi High School. I inspire and support students with disabilities in the general education classroom, and in the pull-out setting for response-to-intervention (RTI) services. For four years prior to becoming a licensed teacher, I worked as an educational assistant, which is where I found my passion for supporting students with disabilities. During that time, I established many meaningful connections with my students, giving me deep insight into the inequities that exist in education. It is through this experience that I realized how evident it is that students with disabilities need someone to advocate for their needs, and provide them with a safe learning environment. I am passionate about advocating for empathy in education, as it is my foundation and motivation for helping students recognize their skills and talents. Teaching in the Kaua‘i complex where the population is relatively small, I see great potential in being able to build a tight-knit community within my school, and implement cross-curricular projects that empower all students, especially those from underrepresented populations.

Lindsey Robertson

Kaimuki McKinley Roosevelt Complex
Roosevelt High School, O‘ahu
Special Education Teacher/Ages 14–22
Community Based Instruction
4 Years

Lindsey RobertsonBorn in Southern California and educated deep in the heart of Texas, I escaped to O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, where my dream was to become a special education teacher in the Aloha State. This dream became a reality in 2017, when I became a proud special education teacher (or “speducator”), serving the Hawai‘i Department of Education. Currently, I teach in a fully-self contained classroom at Roosevelt High School in their Community Based Instruction Program, which emphasizes life skills such as community navigation, cooking, household chores, functional academics, and job readiness. My students range between the ages of 14–22 years old, and as a fourth year speducator, I find that our closeness in age allows me to relate to my students as well as establish strong rapport. I choose to teach students at this age specific life skills because this timeframe is pivotal for students like mine. Through my class, my students learn how to thrive independently so they can advocate for themselves and live their lives to their maximum potential as they transition into adulthood. Most importantly, I teach as a speducator because my students deserve a cheerleader. I stand by, support, and encourage them in all they do. When we aren’t learning how to follow a visual recipe, greet each other appropriately, fill out a job application, or navigate our surrounding community, I like to dance with my students to the latest (and cleanest) popular songs on our class DJ speaker set.

Meggan Lint

Campbell/Kapolei Complex Area
Ewa Makai Middle School, O‘ahu
7th grade Special Education
Math & ELA Inclusion, ELA Resource
4 years

Meggan LintAloha! I am a 2nd year Special Education Teacher at Ewa Makai Middle School. I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa where I attended Iowa State University for my B.S. in Elementary Education. I then pursued my M.Ed at Upper Iowa University as an Instructional Strategist I.

My journey to becoming a teacher was full of twists and turns. I started out in music performance and then transitioned to aquatic sciences. It wasn’t until my third year of college that I took my first education course. Since then I have been influenced by my students. One in particular made me want to pursue special education so that I could better support students like him. Since I began teaching 4 years ago, I have found my purpose. I love working with my students and providing them with the tools they need to be successful. I didn’t choose to be a teacher — teaching chose me and being a special education teacher has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.

Michelle Lim

Pearl City/Waipahu Complex
Red Hill Elementary School, O‘ahu
K-2 Resource Special Education Teacher
3 Yrs Teaching Experience

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Michelle Lim
I was teaching in a preschool inclusion classroom as the general education teacher, yet I always found myself working more with the students with special needs. It was actually my SPED co-teacher who was the one who saw something in me. She encouraged me to become a special education teacher because she noticed how drawn I was to the students with special needs.

When I taught general education, I found myself taking pride in myself when my students learned something new, thinking to myself, "I taught that the right way, I’m a good teacher." However, ever since I became a special education teacher, I take pride in my students thinking, “they worked and tried hard to achieve their goal, I’m so proud of them.” Being a special educator isn't about us, it's about the students, and I feel that so much more being a special educator.

Natalia Sandoval

Kalani Complex
Waikīkī Elementary School, O‘ahu
Preschool Special Education
Fully Self Contained (FSC)
21 years of experience; 14 years teaching in the HiDOE

Natalia SandovalAloha! My name is Natalia Sandoval and I am a Special Education Teacher from Honolulu, HI.

Currently I am a Fully Self Contained Special Education Preschool Teacher at Waikīkī Elementary. I have been fortunate to be a part of the Mindful Waikiki School Ohana for the past 14 years, where I have also worked as a Special Education Resource Teacher (grades K–6), and a Student Services Coordinator.

Being in the special education field is something I have always known was my passion; it’s part of who I am. From a young age, I would volunteer in Mrs. Higa’s class, and help in any way possible. After graduating high school, I sought out a position as a therapeutic aid, supporting students with severe Autism in a private day treatment program. From there, I continued working as a skills trainer/ paraprofessional in various private and DOE schools, while working towards my Masters in Special Education, eventually becoming a teacher myself.

I absolutely LOVE being in the classroom and working with my kids, every single day, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to support not only my students, but their families as well.

Nicole Jankowski

Campbell Kapolei Complex
Ewa Makai Middle School, O‘ahu
Special Education Teacher /7th
Inclusion
19 years

Nicole JankowskiBorn and raised in the Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, I knew from a young age I would teach; I loved playing school growing up. When I was in high school my track coach was the Adaptive P.E. teacher; he encouraged me to think about and eventually pursue a degree in Special Education. My students teach me everyday that each of us possess a unique gift. One of my 5th grade students had an incredible gift for drawing, so we took his talent “On the road.” We videotaped him drawing his favorite character and he was our “Artist and Resident” for the week. This was a turning point in my career; the importance of highlighting the strengths of the students I work with versus their disability. When I see students sit higher, smile bigger, and parents nudge their child to say, “Good job.” This keeps me going. I take great pride in showing kids how to do work with support and eventually on their own. I stay in the profession because of comments from parents saying, “You made a difference in my child’s education.” A friend telling me, “Because of you I am going to get my Special Education License.” Students saying, “I did the assignment by myself.” This job is tough, but there is something different about the Hawaiian Islands. Nineteen years as a Special Education Teacher I can say, “The Aloha Spirit” here makes all the difference!

Pamela Walencewicz

Honokaʻa – Kealakehe – Kohala – Konawaena
Waikoloa Elementary & Middle School
5th Grade Inclusion Speducator
5 years Teaching Experience

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Pamela WalencewiczI am in my fifth year of teaching at Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School on Hawai‘i Island. While I have worked with students across the Pre-K to 5th grade continuum, this is my second year as a 5th grade Special Education inclusion teacher. I teach side-by-side with my General Education partner in an inclusive, co-teaching model.

I became a teacher after nearly 20 years of working in the healthcare field, though I didn’t immediately know I wanted to be a Special Ed teacher. In fact, I was planning on becoming a French teacher after a summer spent traveling through Europe helped me realize my career in healthcare was no longer for me. Preschool was my proving ground. I fell in love with helping my students grow and knew I had undoubtedly found my purpose. Working with 3 and 4-year olds with special needs was pivotal. Suddenly, pursuing an advanced degree in foreign language was no longer the priority. When I considered the young children who required so much in order to be able to navigate the world that lay ahead, special education was an easy choice.

Hawai‘i Island has a large and growing population of Native Hawaiian keiki with special needs. Many of my students have never been off the island and many more come from low-income households. But, they are still capable and gifted…and they can still achieve. And, for me, there is no greater magic in teaching than when I experience one of my students believing in their own abilities and growth. They are what I love most about my job.

Sean Witwer

Farrington Complex
Farrington High School, O‘ahu
Special Education Math, 9–12
Resource Teacher
22 Years

Sean WitwerI became a special education teacher at Farrington High School nearly 22 years ago out of a sincere desire to make a difference in the lives of teenagers. After 17 years of teaching, I was overwhelmed with feelings of frustration and burnout because of an inability to adequately meet the needs of my students and the lack of student achievement in class. I reinvented my teaching practices out of sheer necessity. I’m now passionate, determined, and excited to raise student achievement and bring innovative practices into my blended-learning math class. I’m proud of my students for showcasing their math talents and creating ‘Govs Math Lab’ — our YouTube channel, and for embodying our school’s values of Trust, Empowerment, and Collaboration. I’m very grateful to the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation and the Department of Education for providing grant money and supporting my dream of creating a multimedia rich classroom. I’m also very humbled to have had the opportunity to share our story with Hawaii News Now, the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation, Midweek, the DOE newsletter, and at the Model Schools Conference in Washington, DC. I’m committed to transforming education and bringing systemic change to our schools.

Summer Pila

Honoka‘a – Kealakehe – Kohala – Konawaena Complex
Waimea Elementary School
Special Education Preschool Teacher
8 years Experience

Summer PilaAloha! My name is Summer Pila and I am a special education preschool teacher at Waimea Elementary School on the Big Island. I have worked with special needs children for over 20 years. I worked as a paraprofessional for many years and also as a Skills Trainer Coordinator. While working in this position, I quickly realized how much I missed working directly with the children.

I love working in the preschool setting. I am often a child’s first teacher, with many of our keiki beginning school on their third birthday. If I am lucky, they will remain in my class for 2 or 3 years before continuing on to kindergarten. My motivation to be the best teacher I can be stems from the thought of “Be the teacher you would like for your child.” I have twins who qualified for special education preschool and therefore I take this to heart. I strive to be a nurturing, caring teacher to help guide children to develop to their fullest potential.

Derek Govin

Kaimuki – Roosevelt – McKinley Complex
Roosevelt High School, O‘ahu
Speducator, Ages 14–22
Community Based Instruction
7 Years

Derek GovinMy story begins in Virginia, where I had family members with special needs. Special education is dear to my heart, and yes, it’s personal. I had always loved working with children, whether it be through babysitting, teaching swimming lessons, or coaching swim team. One thing was certain, I was destined to be a teacher. My four year journey ended at Old Dominion University (ODU) as I obtained my B.S. in Elementary Education. I started my first day of my graduate program through ODU and decided to become an educational assistant. I will forever be thankful for my placement to be an individual support to a young 20 year old man with down syndrome. Upon completing my first day of working with him, I called my program advisor and said “change my program to special education. That’s where I’m supposed to be.” Seven years later, I am here, thriving in the HIDOE, teaching Special Education at Roosevelt High School as a Community Based Instruction Teacher. Every student deserves to have a teacher that empowers them to communicate effectively, advocate for his/her self, and develop problem solving skills. It is my daily mission to build these skills to empower every student I come into contact with.