Nan Duncan takes the success of each of the students she works with to heart.
The special education paraeducator has spent the past 34 years supporting students receiving special education services. Most recently that’s involved helping students in the Structured Program at Richland High School get the most out of their general education classes.
Whether that’s helping them take notes, keep on task with assignments or even adjusting how early she sets her alarm clock, she’s always there for them.
“Second semester one of our students who needs para support in all of their classes wanted to take a zero hour,” says Erin Easton, an assistant principal at Richland High. “Nan volunteered to shift her schedule so that she could be there to help.”
It’s that selfless commitment and knack for building relationships with students that led Richland School District leaders to nominate Ms. Duncan for state Classified School Employee of the Year.
The Classified School Employee of the Year program recognizes classified employees from each of Washington's educational service districts every year. Celebrated staff members are chosen for their exceptional work; the respect and admiration they have received from their community; their commitment to professional growth and deepening connections between schools and communities; their collaborative approach to creating positive and successful school cultures and dedication to student success.
Ms. Duncan grew up in Richland schools and her own children graduated from Richland High School. She joined the district in the 1988-89 school year as a paraeducator at Badger Mountain Elementary. She moved to Carmichael Middle School in the 1992-93 school year as a special education paraeducator and spent all but the last two years of her career there.
That’s where Kristen Litke began working with Ms. Duncan five years ago. Very quickly, the special education teacher saw how Ms. Duncan believed in the potential of every student she engaged with and the paraeducator herself became committed to working with Ms. Litke.
“When I came over (to Richland High), she reminded me that she’d said she could never work with another teacher so she followed me,” Ms. Litke says.
Ms. Duncan has spent the last several years working in Richland High’s Structured Program, which serves students who are autistic. She works with them in small groups or one-on-one in their math and language arts courses taught by Ms. Litke while also supporting them in their general education classes.
The mutual connections between Ms. Duncan and students are what have allowed so many students to reach their potential, staff say. It’s not unusual for students who worked with her during her Carmichael years to stop by her Richland High classroom just to say hello.
“We have some students who are selective mutes and they’ll just talk her ear off,” Ms. Litke said.
And while she’s had a long career, staff say Ms. Duncan continues to say she’ll stay on just one more year each spring. And they know that so many students will benefit from her continuing to be part of their lives.