Special Education Administrator of the Year: Inspiring those around her

Reaching out to each and every student is a concern of all educators. One group of educators for whom this can at times be an extra challenge – as well as an extra joy – are those who work in the field of special education.

Mildred Browne, assistant superintendent of Pupil Services and Special Education for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, is one of the best in the field. She is ACSA’s 2011 Special Education Administrator of the Year.

In a nominating letter, Larry Jaurequi, director of special education for the Mountain View-Los Altos Union HSD, stated: “Dr. Browne inspires everyone around her to look at a problem as an opportunity, generating alternatives and implementing solutions. … She loves people, works hard, and always tries to lift the spirits of those around her. She is a tireless promoter and champion for special needs students and families.”

Browne has worked in special education since 1972. She actually started working with special needs people before that as an undergraduate at UC San Diego. She served as a psychiatric technician for three years at Mercy Hospital, work she found very rewarding.

“My work in providing mental health services fueled my passion for serving children with special needs,” Browne said. “I decided to devote all of my education and training to enhance my skills to provide services for students with special needs.”

Subsequently, Browne’s experience as a guidance counselor, school psychologist and an administrator enabled her to navigate the special education and mental health systems and become a strong advocate to support students and their families.

One of the reasons Browne was selected for the statewide ACSA honor is the many programs and publications she has developed to help address the needs of special ed students.

Such programs as the Counseling Enriched Program, the Counseling Clinic/Wrap Program, the Mental Health Collaborative Model and publications such as Special Edition, Tip Sheets, Q&A and Psyched Up, plus the web-based Special Education Student Information system have earned her kudos from colleagues and the families of the students she supports.

“I am very proud of the programs I have developed to enhance mental health services in Mt. Diablo Unified,” Browne said. “In 2001, we established the Mental Health Collaborative, which provides a full continuum of placements and support for students with mental health needs that would otherwise interfere with their education.”

Browne also said she has been pleased with the success of the MDUSD Wraparound and Counseling Clinic. This is a Medi-Cal certified site program through which wraparound and counseling services are delivered to students who are eligible to receive full scope Medi-Cal funding. The counseling support is for students and families for whom other attempts to address mental health or behavior-related concerns have been unsuccessful.

“Wraparound is a family-centered process that builds a team and coordinates all members to brainstorm ways to help the child and the family have more successful lives,” Browne said. “The intent of the program is to help the family develop their own network of support through their community rather than develop a long-standing reliance upon formal services for intervention.”

The multi-disciplinary team includes informal community support augmenting professional support such as therapists, doctors, probation officers, social workers, CFS workers and others.

In 2010-11, clinic school psychologists served 173 students, and wraparound support was provided to 49 students and their families.

In a year in which ACSA celebrates its 40th anniversary as an umbrella association, it’s fitting to note that Browne has been there for much of it. She has been an ACSA member for more than 30 years. Browne said the culture of support ACSA provides through her active participation has really paid off in her career and for her district.

“ACSA has provided much of the training and job-alike experiences that have assisted me in growing as an administrator,” she said. “Participation on ACSA state and regional committees has provided me with invaluable opportunities for networking.

“The state special education/student services/equity conferences have provided district staff with an opportunity to showcase our many successful programs. Our staff has also heard presentations from other districts that shared unique strategies we were able to borrow to enhance our programs.”

Browne said she was elated when she was notified of the Administrator of the Year Award.

“I am very honored and proud to be selected as the Special Education Administrator of the Year,” she said, noting that none of it would have been possible without the top-notch colleagues she’s been blessed to work with. “In every district where I have worked, I have worked with a great team of people who share my passion for serving students. This has included great clerical support staff, community agency representatives and parents.”

Browne will be formally honored at the ACSA Leadership Summit. For registration information, visit www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit.