Haar Helps Paras Joining SSD
August 26, 2021 - Kevin Haar can often be found standing in front of the brightly lit windows of the Learning Center’s third-floor conference room as he welcomes newly hired SSD paraprofessionals (or commonly known as teacher assistants) to orientation. He greets new staff with granola bars and laptops as they stream in to begin their first day as a para for SSD. “I want them to know I am their ally, they can come to me with anything,” says Haar, who joined the Planning and Development team as our Paraprofessional Professional Learning Facilitator on July 1, 2021.
Orientations for new para staff are conducted for groups of up to 40 for three days of training on topics such as behavior management and universals, disability awareness, person-first language, IEP process overview, ethical issues, and more. All sessions are hosted at the Learning Center and run from 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM. Although SSD hires and trains paras year-round, Haar must host two full sessions a week in August due to the number of new para staff starting at the beginning of the school year.
At a recent training session, we spoke with a number of attendees about why they chose to join SSD’s paraprofessional team and the answers were as varied as SSD students. The group included a newly transplanted St. Louisan who had worked with special education students their full academic career, a recent college graduate who was prompted to apply due to his outstanding work on Special Olympics, another college graduate with a degree in sign language and early childhood education, and yet another with a degree in teaching deaf and hard of hearing. The position also draws people who have developed care skills in eldercare facilities or were drawn to the District by a current employee’s recommendation.
These new paraprofessionals have a lot of support to look forward to with Haar at the helm. With over 1,700 para-level staff in SSD, he is doing his best to make sure they get all they need to be successful. SSD now has a three-year Para Academy, which allows paras to develop their supportive skillset in one of three areas: behavior and autism, literacy, or numeracy. Now in its second year, the Academy offers several courses which are asynchronous, allowing staff to access them at their own pace. Additionally, release time has been approved for both new and veteran paras to access the courses, so that any SSD paraprofessionals who are interested in learning more or expanding their skill set can do so.
Haar also has developed multiple checkpoints he will use to keep in touch with our new hires. Throughout the year, they can expect to hear from him with updates, opportunities to give feedback, and resources he curates to keep them informed.