Public Education Matters

The Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals (OASNP) has been a department in the Ohio Education Association since the early 1980's. The group has grown over the years to include those who serve people with disabilities both through county boards of developmental disabilities and in traditional public school settings. But, as OASNP prepares to host its annual conference in February, leaders say OASNP and the event are valuable for all OEA members.

Show Notes

Bringing Special Needs Professionals Together - Season 3, Episode 18
The Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals (OASNP) has been a department in the Ohio Education Association since the early 1980's. The group has grown over the years to include those who serve people with disabilities both through county boards of developmental disabilities and in traditional public school settings. But, as OASNP prepares to host its annual conference in February, leaders say OASNP and the event are valuable for all OEA members. 
REGISTER | For full details and to sign up to attend OASNP's annual conference February 24-25, 2023, click here.

MORE | To learn more about the Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals and how to join, click here.

SUBSCRIBE | Click here to subscribe to Education Matters on Apple Podcasts or click here to subscribe on Google podcasts so you don't miss a thing. And don't forget you can listen to all of the previous episodes anytime on your favorite podcast platform, or by clicking here.

Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • Chrissy West, OASNP Chairperson
    • Christina West is the current chairperson of the Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals and has worked for the Portage County Board of DD for 17 years. Her current role is working with students and school districts to transition students out of school services into adulthood. She is an active member of OEA and holds a seat on her local city council. 
  • Jené Wilson, OASNP Immediate Past Chair
    • Jené has been an active member of the unified Association since 1973, when she started teaching. She held all offices except Treasurer in her local as well as served on several committees, including as chief negotiator several times. She continues to be active within NEOEA and OEA, serving on several committees. She is a founding member of The Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals (OASNP,) which was formerly Ohio Association of Professionals for the MR/DD (OAPMRDD) and then Ohio Association for DD Professionals (OADDP.) She has served as Secretary, Vice-Chair and Chairperson of OASNP, and is currently the Immediate Past Chairperson. 
    • Currently: OEA Organizing Strategy | NEOEA: Summer Leadership, Resolutions, Publications, Communications Committees; Public Relations Committee Chairperson |Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals (OASNP) Past President | Student Teacher Supervisor at Cleveland State University – 2 years
    • Previously: Local President – 10 years |Contract and Grievance Chairperson – 11 years | Chairperson, OASNP - 5 years | OASNP Vice-Chairperson – 24 years |NEOEA/OEA RA delegate – 32 years | NEA RA delegate – 22 years | NEOEA Unit 10 Board of Directors Representative – 3 years | Uniserv Secretary | Local Vice-President, Corresponding Secretary, Recording Secretary | NEOEA and OEA Legislative and Resolutions Committees – 6 years each | OEA Local Development and Training – 6 years | NEOEA Elections Committee – 3 years | Teacher/Behavior Specialist at Cuyahoga County Board of DD – 36 years | Adjunct at Notre Dame College – 10 years
Connect with OEA:
About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May 2020, after a ten-year career as an Emmy Award winning television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on January 4, 2023.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Thanks for joining us for this edition of Education Matters. I'm Katie Olmsted, part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association and it's 120,000 members. Those members have a wide range of professional titles - We're talking K-12 teachers, education support professionals, higher ed faculty members and more - but there's often a lot of overlap for all of those jobs in terms of the populations they serve. That's where groups like the Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals, or OASNP, come in. It's an organization under the OEA umbrella that brings together OEA members from across the state who serve children and adults with special needs, whether that's in a traditional public school setting or through the county boards of developmental disabilities around Ohio. OASNP is getting ready to have its annual conference back in person at the end of February, and they're inviting all OEA members to attend. To find out why, we sat down with OASNP chairperson Chrissy West, a case manager for the Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and OASNP immediate past chair Jené Wilson, who retired from the Cuyahoga County Board of DD, and now supervises student teachers at Cleveland State. Jené was also one of the founding members of this group back when it got started in the early 80's. Take a listen.

Chrissy West, Jené Wilson, thank you so much for sitting down with us today to really talk about this group and what this all has to offer. Let's start with that big bird's eye view. What is the Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals, and why do I want to keep calling it "Oh Snap"

Chrissy West 2:10
This is Chrissy, and Oh Snap - I'm not sure. People just saw the name and thought it was much easier than saying OASNP. OASNP used to be a lot of other things. The Ohio Association of MRDD Professionals, our name has changed quite a bit over the years. I think we originally started with those local county board of DDs that needed a voice, that needed some advocacy because it was something new and fresh. And from there, we've really grown to be a group or an organization that supports anyone that supports people with developmental disabilities, special needs within our school districts, adults. It doesn't just have to be a teacher, it could be any type of professional that works in our field.

Katie Olmsted 2:53
And that has to be because there are certain challenges for working with this population, regardless whether you're a teacher or a bus driver or serving lunch. What are some of those challenges that you contend with?

Jené Wilson 3:05
This is Jené. Yeah, I think that a lot of the challenges that people are feeling is we get a lot of concerns about behavior, and not having enough resources to address behaviors either within the classroom or with adults. And I think we get concerns about the huge amount of paperwork. And then the most recent survey, we I think that for quite a while those two things kept coming up over and over again. And then most recently, we've gotten some concerns about funding and staffing, and that there just isn't enough for the work that needs to be done, because it is, you know, very specialized.

Katie Olmsted 3:50
And so how does OASNP help navigate some of those challenges?

Chrissy West 3:56
It's Chrissy again. OASNP is navigating these challenges by first of all, we have members on all of OEA's standing committees. So we have a voice at OEA. So then when we're sitting in talking about resolutions or local training and development, we have a representative from the Special Needs organization there just kind of speak up and say what we feel is important. That's a voice at a larger level but also being available for phone calls for when schools need something or county boards need something just to call, clarify a role. Our roles at local county board of DDs are well well different than then school roles. So kind of having conversation on you know, what works and what doesn't, being available as resources, networking, providing information on training or or things that someone might need.

Katie Olmsted 4:44
For people who are unfamiliar with what the County Board of DDs do and what your roles would be, what can you tell them?

Chrissy West 4:51
The local county board of DDs, they support basically from birth to death people with developmental disabilities. So there's lots of different resources. The crazy thing about it is it looks different in every county. So what works in Cuyahoga might not look the same in Portage. But we are supporting and providing resources for those folks with developmental disabilities. Maybe it's my caseload transition age youth, attending IEPs, providing networking resources, helping find employment, helping find funding, housing, those kinds of things. Or maybe it's, 'I'm 50 years old, and I want to live in my own apartment, I don't want to live with mom anymore' helping find those resources. So there's a wide variety of services a county board of DD provides from early intervention, which is up to age three, to school age services to those adult services.

Katie Olmsted 5:43
And that was the original foundation of what has now become OASNP. Jené, you are one of the founding members. What can you tell me about how this all got started and how it has changed over the years?

Jené Wilson 5:57
This started because those of us who were members of OEA but who worked at at county boards of disabilities, we realized that our concerns were very much different than people who were in schools in classrooms with 25 kids. We might be working with, you know, with a group of adults who have very serious disabilities, we might be working with preschoolers, who are not able to attend regular preschool. And they would come to us so that we could do therapy there and also work on a lot of things that kids that age, need to work on, and then hopefully be able to transition to public school. And a lot of the work that we did at that time was also in homes, which schools were not doing those kinds of things. So we realized coming together that those of us who were working in boards of DD, and were delegates to OEA, that we needed to help OEA to understand and support us in ways that were different, particularly with at the time, a lot of legislative issues. We really relied a lot on governmental services to help us navigate that because a lot of times things that apply to - because we have to be licensed as well. I mean, we're all licensed and our paraprofessionals are certified. So a lot of what was happening at the State Board of DD wasn't are at the State Board of Ed wasn't really helpful to us because people didn't really understand. And so we spent a lot of time getting OEA to support us in those ways. So we came together and then in '84, OEA made us a department. And we're under OEA and so we've sort of grown. We grew and shrunk and are growing again because boards of DDs pretty much going out of business. So I don't want to say that completely. Because, what do you think Chrissy? I mean, we have adults, a lot of adult services still and home services.

Chrissy West 8:08
Yeah. So coming full circle, what's happening is his board of DDs aren't focusing on direct service anymore. A lot of those folks that attended those, those schools that border duties ran are now in our public schools. So we're providing resources to them within the public schools. The people that, you know, maybe early intervention, for example, is home based again, it wasn't for a really long time. So a lot of those kids that were removed and pulled and put in specialized schools are now in our public schools. So now we, you know, they're still getting services, and they need someone to support them. So we can now support those special educators that are supporting them back into public school districts, instead of within county board programs. The adults are still receiving services from the County Board of DD. They're just not receiving a direct service there. We're contracting with provider agencies. They're still over, we still oversee those services and make sure the adults are safe and healthy. But we those those all went private, several years ago. Yeah. Because County Board of DDs used to operate day services and they no longer do. So as there are some county board schools left. I know ours in Portage will be will be gone on after next year. But we're changing how we use our resources. So we're still going out into the school districts working with the public schools. And I think a lot of county boards are doing that as well. So the kids haven't gone away. It's where they're receiving the services and who's providing that service.

Jené Wilson 9:33
And this is Jené again. That's one of the things that the county boards did as kids were transitioning from the county board schools, which were literally separate schools for kids who are moderate to severely impacted. We were helping to make that transition. We were going into the public schools. That was my job at the time. We were going into the public schools to help those kids integrate, to help the teachers and the staff know what to do with the kids who were coming to them from the county boards. So that was one of the services that we provided.

Katie Olmsted 10:08
And I think seeing the changing delivery of those services really speaks to the need for OASNP, in terms of having that that group of people who are all in this together who are all facing those same challenges, those same triumphs, really talking about the best ways to achieve good outcomes for the people you serve. Is that about right?

Chrissy West 10:33
Right. Yeah. And the service delivery is always changing. It's constantly changing. And what service service delivery looks like, where I'm at might be different where Jené is. So it's always important to communicate with each other and network and kind of see what's working and what's not. Why try something if you know, it's not going to work? So it's great to have those, those resources and just people that get it. I think, overall OEA, it's a great, it's a great organization. But not everyone that sits in that room at a rep assembly understands what my job is and what I do, nor do I understand what they do. So it's nice to have like minded voices and people to be able to sit down and have a conversation, and sometimes feel a sense of relief that you're doing the right thing or going the right way with things.

Katie Olmsted 11:19
And I assume you're gonna have a lot of those conversations coming up at the end of February. Right?

Chrissy West 11:26
Yes, February 24 and 25th. Our annual conference is back in person at Mohican State Park conference center, a beautiful venue. We join together Friday night, have some speakers on Friday night. This year, we are having a Mardi Gras themed happy hour. After our speakers, great networking, it's probably the best networking of of all the conferences that go to just because you get to really talk about what you're doing in your districts. It's great. And then on Saturday, we're going to have some legislative and legal updates, as well as a focus on mental health this time around.

Katie Olmsted 12:05
Mental health for the people you serve or the mental health for the OASNP members?

Jené Wilson 12:10

Chrissy West 12:11

Katie Olmsted 12:12
Let's talk about that. Why is it something that's so important to put the spotlight on right now?

Jené Wilson 12:17
This is Jené again. I think because a lot of the concerns that we get from people are that, especially since the pandemic that things have just become increasingly difficult that people came back from being isolated, with more behavioral challenges, less ability to be social, and the staff also is feeling, you know, stretched, is feeling that it's difficult to be able to be back in person, and to do all the things that need to be done. And I think it's it's not any different than what you're hearing in public schools and schools in general. Those of us working with people with disabilities are feeling the same thing, that there's a huge workload, that there's not enough people, you know, we've lost lots of people in the profession. And that coming back from the pandemic, people are different, that they're struggling, both the the workers, us, the staff, the members as well as the students and, and adult consumers.

Chrissy West 13:13
And we might be supporting some students that aren't able to, like a typical student, come out and say, I'm really stressed or I don't understand. So I think helping to educate members on on ways to notice those things, those kiddos that might not speak but want to be verbal, they want to share they want to communicate, how do we recognize that? How do we recognize, you know, what's hurting them? What's harming them, what they're missing? That's tough.

Katie Olmsted 13:55
Do you think this conference is going to help maybe reinvigorate some of the staff members who are feeling a little burnt out? Just having people around you who get it who understand when you're saying, I am stretched too thin right now?

Jené Wilson 14:11
Yeah. This is Jené again. I think all of the conferences we've had, I know that I always - and we've been doing it for over 20 years, we've been having conferences - I always leave feeling like that. Feeling like there are other people who are sharing the same concerns, but also because we try to tailor the speakers to specifically to concerns of people working with people with disabilities. You can get professional development at your school, you can go outside your workplace to get professional development, but a lot of times it's not specifically focused on what we're doing and we try to make this conference specific to the concerns and the needs of the people that are members of OASNP

Katie Olmsted 14:58
As of this episode dropping January 12th, registration is open. Who do you want to attend?

Chrissy West 15:06
We want anyone that supports people with disabilities, period. You don't have to be a special educator, you could be anything within a public school district. So any OEA member is welcome to attend.

Jené Wilson 15:17
And we always welcome and want to attend not only the teachers, but paraprofessionals. Because the topics are accessible for everybody. They're going to be useful to everybody. We always try to make sure that the conference appeals to, you know, classroom teachers, people working with adults in the workshops around worksites, to paraprofessionals in the classroom, to OTs, PTs, speech therapists, we try to make it, you know - it's for people who are supporting anyone with disabilities. And that could be just a teacher who has a couple of kids with disabilities, who are, you know, cycling into their class for English or gym or whatever, that the conference is going to be helpful to all of those people.

Katie Olmsted 16:09
Would you like to see all of those people involved in OASNP year round? Not just at the conference time?

Chrissy West 16:16
We'd love that.

Jené Wilson 16:16
Absolutely. Yeah, we would love that.

Katie Olmsted 16:19
How would they get involved? Well, you

Jené Wilson 16:21
Well, you can, you can join on OEA's website under, I think it's under wherever membership is. And then you can fill out a form online. The dues are only $10 a year and your local can, your local treasurer can take it out, take the dues out and we'll make sure that OASNP gets the dues. Like I said for $10. The conference, there is a cost for the conference. But it's pretty minimal considering that it's two days, and it's how many meals like dinner, breakfast, lunch, so and three meals and you know, as well as the happy hour. So that's a way they can be involved. They're certainly welcome when we have meetings. Members are always welcome to come to meetings. And there will be a membership meeting at the end of the conference on Saturday afternoon, so people are welcome to stay for that. Yeah, we would love to have more people involved because the more voices we have, the more concerns we know about, the more ideas we have, the better the organization is going to be, and the better we can support members.

Katie Olmsted 17:31
And how has the organization supported you? After your time here both both as chairs of OASNP, what have you gotten out of this?

Jené Wilson 17:43
Well, I think that it certainly has been good for my professional growth. I've learned a lot of things. Both professionally and association wise, I think I've learned a lot through OASNP and being part of OASNP and OEA, certainly. And I think personally just made a lot of really good friends that have endured over the years. Even some people who've moved out of town I still, you know, they've retired and moved on, I'm still in touch with a lot of them. So personally and professionally and association wise, it's been good for me.

Chrissy West 18:19
I agree. It's very empowering. It's very empowering to be around like minded people that just want to support people, regardless of whether they have disabilities or not, right? We just want to support young adults and adults and kids in our schools and help them you know, to achieve their missions and their goals in life. So to be able to be amongst people that feel the same way and just have those conversations. Yes, it is a it's a great opportunity for that.

Katie Olmsted 18:46
Well, Chrissy, Jené, thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Again, registration is open for the upcoming conference. We will have the link in the show notes to this episode. Thank you so much again.

Chrissy West 18:58
Thank you

Jené Wilson 18:59
Thank you!

Katie Olmsted 19:02
In addition to that conference registration link in the show notes, you'll also find the link for more information about the Ohio Association of Special Needs Professionals. And while you're online, make sure you subscribe to Education Matters wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss a thing. Next week, we're hearing from a Columbus Education Association member whose career has taken him from preschool teacher to PBIS coordinator to children's book author about, among other things, why he joined OEA-R so many years before he plans to retire. New Education Matters episodes drop every Thursday morning. Until next time, stay well

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