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An elementary school boy sits in front of a computer in his special education school while holding up a page of autographs.



Meet Harlee: Assistant Director

Meet Harlee: Assistant Director

March 1 was Employee Appreciation Day! We are celebrating our team members all month long by sharing their stories. Meet Harlee Tripp, an Assistant Director at New Story Schools’ Outreach program in Ohio who is passionate about building a positive culture.

What is your favorite thing about working here?

The best part of working in this role is interacting with our students, no question about it. Being able to build and enjoy a strong rapport gives way to a lot of fun moments.

What keeps you coming to work each day?

There are many reasons I show up to work each day. The most important reason is that when I was a student, I faced low-income school rampant with violence, drug use, bullying. Most of the adults simply weren’t prepared for or coping with the things happening around them and this trickled down into the children. Growing up, I had always wished that my teachers and role models had done things differently, I just wasn’t exactly sure what ‘differently’ should look like. Working with New Story Schools has made that picture clear. Now, I can build a culture that enables our staff to be the adults I always wanted back when I was a student.

How do you make an impact on students’ lives?

I strive to bring warmth alongside firm boundaries to our students. Boundaries make the world feel safe and secure, and less chaotic or unpredictable. However, the actions and words we use to enforce reasonable boundaries can breed trauma if chosen poorly. Communication, warmth, compromise, and collaboration can be the tools that help equip our students with the skills needed to one day become their own managers of behavior and academics.

Last year, we rolled out our BetterTogether guiding principles. Which one of our values resonates with you most personally and why?

Accountability resonates with me in all areas of my life. The ability to assess yourself, accept feedback, hold yourself accountable and make mistakes in an environment that seeks to help you grow from them creates the perfect breeding ground for positive change. Humans are meant to change, and I’ve always highly valued a focus on trying to change for the better.

What does a “day in the life” look like for your role?

A day in the life of an assistant director for the Outreach program revolves around being able to pivot. The needs of each day can wildly vary. One day I might help potential new hires tour a center, the next I might be supporting veteran staff with a behavior of concern an hour away. Running professional development, handling administrative tasks, attending a variety of meetings, and addressing urgent concerns also fall under my scope of practice.

Can you talk a little bit about your career trajectory and what led you to where you are now?

Initially, I joined as a Behavior Technician within the In District Consulting Outreach program. As the program grew, I was given the opportunity to become a consultant that bounced between technicians as an added layer of support. From there, I transitioned to another program under the Outreach umbrella and explored the role of Assistant Director.

What has been your proudest moment or accomplishment in your role?

I have had many moments of beaming pride throughout my time with New Story Schools. Each one is precious in its own way; no one sticks out to me more than another. I had a nonverbal student that one day spoke a word to me. I taught another child with no mode of communication to independently utilize a few function signs. Another student overcame years of severe rumination and took it to extinction that then maintained over years of significant traumatic events at their home. A student who could not play with blocks because they were so busy engaging in behaviors of concern was able to stand independently in the instructional area and genuinely enjoy counting to twenty with their teacher by the end of the school year. A student who spent less than 5 minutes of instruction per day for weeks was finally able to sit calmly at the table with their peers and complete work for over 40 minutes just a month after interventions were put in place. The more challenging the situation, the better the feeling when you finally see the forward progress you’ve been working for.

What is something about you that not many people know?

Largely, I am an open book. The most interesting and relevant fact about myself regarding my work is that I used to dislike interacting with children. I was always petrified of hurting a child's feelings and had a hard time understanding what they were trying to say. I could make no sense of most children and was anxious about how to respond. Embarrassingly, in college, I would cross the street if I saw a gaggle of kids walking towards me so that I could quietly observe their cuteness from a safe distance. Ironically, working with nonverbal students who spoke with their actions instead of their words made far more sense to me than neurotypical children. Thankfully, my past students taught me that the most important thing when interacting with kids is to immerse myself in their world. Now I thoroughly enjoy each chance to have an excuse to be a child again.

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