Paula Angell's Hastings Middle School office is in a state somewhere between cluttered and transition.

The 42-year district employee has papers stacked on her desk, numerous books are lodged in a shelf and elsewhere. She said that she bounces between the district's various schools, working with students with disabilities and other responsibilities. It gives her little time to organize.

Now, Angell, the district's family resource coordinator, is retiring at the end of the school year, shifting any hopes of organizing her office into moving-out plans.

She sat down with the Hastings Star Gazette on May 14 for a conversation reflecting on her career.

 

What do you have left for the rest of this year for you? How are things looking ahead?

I'm just really excited. I think once you finally make the decision so much easier, you know, it's just that, 'OK, is this the right decision? What am I going to do?' And it kind of all falls into place.

 

How how have things changed [throughout the years]?

Just the changes that I've seen in servicing people with disabilities and that's kind of where I've always worked. No matter what job I've done in the district, I've done just a variety of different things. You know, when I first started, when I was in college and high school the jobs that I had [I] worked in institutions and state hospitals and so many people, that's where they lived. And so the programming went on there ... At [that] time we only served kids ages 4 to 18, and now, of course, it's from birth.

And I think as state hospitals and institutions closed, we had more people in our communities. So now how are we going to serve as people? That we were, at one time, we weren't even aware of. So that's been a huge change because luckily parents advocated for their kids and there was kind of a grassroots effort inside schools [to serve these kids].

Federal legislation passed in 1975 mandating free public education for students with disabilities. Angell started working in Hastings in 1977.

 

Why are you interested in [working with] people with special needs and community services?

Both my parents are teachers. So that was a big influence ... I just thought, 'Yep, that's what I thought [I'd do].' I've always wanted to be a teacher. And then one summer ... it was probably after my first year of college, I worked for the Austin Parks and Rec Department and they asked if I would be willing to do a rec program [with kids with disabilities] for a private institution there ... Then at the same time I started working with Special Olympics and I just really, really liked it. That's when I went back to school ... I thought, 'you know, I'm kind of good at this.' And I just really felt that I kind of had a passion for it.

 

You probably settled down with your family and such, but did you ever think about leaving?

I [thought] about it for like a brief moment. Like, 'you know, maybe I should look for something else.' There were a couple of things I had applied for and didn't get. And my kids are a huge piece of it. My husband... when he was a kid, he moved a lot. So that was a piece of it. That because he had moved so much we had decided that Hastings is home. ... Hastings is an incredible little town to raise a family.

 

I want to circle back to what you mentioned. When you decided to pursue this career path, you said you felt like you were good at it. What makes someone good at this?

I think the flexibility doesn't rock my world. But it also means I'm not organized, which, I think sometimes [is due to] the paperwork in special education ... yet we still [at the] end of the day have to teach your kids. I can go into about anything that I do and I may not be really super good at it, but I can do it. So I don't know. I guess it's just the person I am ... I was lucky enough to find a job that I liked and to be able to mold it the way I wanted to. The district kind of left me alone and let me do my own thing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.