Mariesa Grado knows a thing or two about The Deron School’s mission — she’s held two other major positions before becoming the school’s principal nearly two years ago. Most recently, Principal Grado served as Supervisor of Elementary and Secondary Education, and before that, she was an Art Teacher for seven years. Principal Grado’s long-standing commitment to this school reflects not only her passion for education but also her deep care for Deron students.
Principal Grado achieves much more than caring one-on-one relationships with her students; she is also an innovative thinker and creative problem-solver. Some of her most recent notable achievements at The Deron School include the development and implementation of our Great Beginnings program for students ages 5 through 14, which utilizes the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis to meet the unique and diverse needs of our students. She has also revamped sensory integration to maximize student achievement, leading a team of professionals to design a unique Sensory Room to address students’ specific processing needs. To learn more about her, we sat down with Principal Grado and struck up an engaging and enlightening interview:
What got you into special needs education?
“My first job right out of college was teaching art a public high school, and as the newbie they asked me to teach a separate class for students with behavioral concerns. These were the students I connected with the most. It became very apparent that the field of general education was not going to be enough for me. Shortly thereafter, I applied for an Art Teacher job at Deron. I could tell that people loved their jobs here; everyone was so happy,and dressed so professionally!” She added, “that spoke volumes about the professionalism of the staff and the environment.”
What separates The Deron School from others that support and nourish special-needs students?
“Our team. We are all highly energetic, collaborative, and committed to raising the bar of special education. It’s a family atmosphere and a love for our students that drives us to be better than the rest.”
Do you have a favorite school tradition or activity?
“Yes! There’s so much about Deron that I love, but one particular thing is the drum ensemble; they perform at the spring concert and I wait for it all year. It’s fantastic to watch a group of students with special-needs performing in synchronicity, drumming on the backs of chairs like soldiers. Besides looking and sounding fantastic, it’s a reminder of how much work they put in all year. I see everything they struggle with disappear, and it’s a very proud moment for me.”
Is there an accomplishment you’re particularly proud of during your time at Deron?
“The accomplishment I am most proud of is building a positive climate and culture where everyone shares in the vision of success and the long-term goals of our students. Taking every opportunity to share my vision and getting everyone to share in that vision has been my greatest accomplishment. I never feel like we’re dragging people along; people are here because they want to be and because we have great expectations for our students and staff. People here are never ‘faking the funk’.”
After graduating, what do you hope your students take away from The Deron School?
“Beyond the communication and functional skills they need to have a full life, I hope they realize their potential, have self confidence and self direction to move onto the next phase of their life.By the time they leave, we hope that our students are no longer focusing on their deficits but instead on their strengths.”
How are parents integrated into the culture and education at Deron?
“Parents are always considered such an important part of the team. We need them to put supports in place for their children, and we need to put supports in place for them to build the team approach. More and more we get the involved parent because they value what we do. We have a fantastic PTO (parent teacher organization) looking to help us above and beyond what we do in the classroom as we are always seeking parental input. I am very transparent and love the collective spirit, thriving off of a mutual collaboration between parents and staff.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“I love what I do. My hope is to share my expertise at the next level, perhaps write a textbook for educators and parents of students with special needs. I have so much to share.”
Thank you, Principal Grado, for your time, insights and passion for what you do. We are grateful to have you at The Deron School.