Your work and service shows a passion for supporting special education. Did you plan to go into this specific field upon graduating, or did it sort of “find you”?
I knew I wanted to be a school psychologist in high school. I started taking psychology classes my freshman year at Cal and was fortunate to complete a major in psychology and to take advantage of upper division educational psychology classes in my senior year. Every psychology class validated that this was the field for me and I was certain after graduation that school psychology would be my career path.
Going into this field, how did you view your personal mission as an educator? Has it changed over time?
Early on my personal mission was to make a positive impact on student lives, and as I worked with more students I found areas of focus that shaped my engagement with students, adults and my career. From the beginning I had a definite interest in assessment and counseling for youth with emotional challenges. Engaging and connecting with students for whom the educational system was misaligned with their needs was interesting, challenging and rewarding.
I have become more focused on ensuring that all students receive the resources and support they need from the educational system. I have increased my advocacy for inclusive practices, equitable access for youth of color and have worked to break down barriers for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. It is critically important to address the systemic and institutional discriminatory practices of the education system, confront implicit and explicit bias, and champion the success of all children.
Tell me about your current role within the special education system. How has education in the bay area changed since you entered the field? Where do you see it headed?
I am the Associate Superintendent for San Mateo County SELPA. SELPA is an acronym for special education local plan area, which is a regional consortium ensuring all students in the area receive the services and supports they need. I serve 30 local education agencies providing technical assistance, advisory support and liaison services to the state department of education. A lot of the work is compliance support and reporting required to receive state and federal funding, but we also provide coaching, community and parent engagement and professional development to educators. I also provide alternative dispute resolution services and generate the statewide special ed finance report for other SELPAs and their members.
In education there is a shift towards early intervention, tiers of support for all students and a focus on issues related to equity and access. Educators use improvement science foundations to ensure quality data collection, progress monitoring and flexible decision making to ensure outcomes from our programs and services.
For special education there is a focus on inclusive practices and incorporating a single system of support across the state. Many Bay Area education systems are writing inclusive practices in their mission, vision and program decisions.
I believe inclusive practices are where we need to stay engaged in to achieve the educational outcomes we desire - closing the achievement gap, inclusive education for students with disabilities and ensuring equitable supports and services for all students.
What tools did UC Berkeley give you for what you do now?
UCB gave me so many tools, including and beyond the foundations for my career. The courses I took allowed me to fine tune my areas of interest, investigate alignment with other disciplines, and provided me with life skills to ensure I could be successful through my career path. I left Cal focused on where I wanted to go and confident that I could move forward into my chosen field.
What advice would you give to graduating psychology students interested in entering the field of supporting families with individuals with special needs?
Schools are a wonderful place to work and there is a significant need for school psychologists and for those interested in specializing in mental health, social emotional learning and positive behavioral practices. More and more schools are working to develop and hire internal staff to run embedded programs for all their students, and the work is tremendously rewarding!
You do substantial advocacy work in Sacramento. How do you view progress when it comes to special education policy work? What would be your ultimate goal and what steps are needed to get there?
Engaging in policy and advocacy work on behalf of students with disabilities has become a real passion of mine. Seeing the impact and outcomes possible by engaging with legislative staff is very rewarding. We are fortunate to be seeing increases in funding targeting critical needs for special education, including increased base funding, enhanced early childhood investments and support for teacher recruitment and retention. Governor Newsom continues his commitment to education and educators are grateful for the resources announced for 19-20 and 20-21. This is a time where there is growing alignment in advocating for inclusive practices for all students. Research tells us that students at all levels benefit when provided with academic rigor and educational experiences where all students are integrated and included together.
It is exciting to see these positive steps, alignment of philosophy and commitments for providing growing resources for all students. However, we truly have so far to go. Despite targeted focus on the achievement gap, students with disabilities continue to demonstrate overall poor outcomes and improvements based on current metrics. Students with disabilities continue to perform poorly on academic assessments, are disproportionately subject to disciplinary measures, exclusionary practices and fail to achieve desired outcomes including graduation from high school.
My ultimate goal would be for students with disabilities to be served by a One System of Support where all students receive the supports and services they need to achieve within the general education environment and where all educators hold themselves accountable to positive student outcomes for each student.
To ensure equitable access for students with disabilities, ongoing and targeted resources will need to be provided to schools to implement recommended inclusive practices. It is critically important that the education system acknowledges the responsibility of all educators for all children. Teachers need support, including training, professional development and leadership to engage in the hard work of providing quality educational opportunities to all students.
You joined the Charter Hill Society for Psychology, a community of alumni dedicated to supporting UC Berkeley, their department, and each other, as an Honorary Chair. What motivates you to support the department, not just as a donor, but also as part of the volunteer leadership?
Cal shaped my path and career based on the foundational skills and coursework I received over 25 years ago. I feel it is critical for the university and the department to receive support from alumni so that the programs and education experienced by current and future students interested in psychology are excellent and world-class.
I have enjoyed engaging with students starting their investigation of potential careers, connecting with other alumni using psychology in their careers to varying degrees, and feel energized by the amazing professors and faculty I have had the privilege to meet. I hope that volunteering will result in more alumni engagement from across disciplines with the university to ensure ongoing support and interaction to build a vibrant UC Berkeley community that benefits students, the department and the alumni.
Anjanette Pelletier is the Associate Superintendent for San Mateo County Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), and has previously served as Special Education Director, Coordinator, and Psychologist in two suburban school districts in the SF-Bay Area. She graduated with a degree in Psychology from the University of California Berkeley and is a Licensed Educational Psychologist. She has served for the California SELPA Association as Chair for Legislation and Finance Committees, and serves on ACSA’s Legislative Policy Committee and the Special Education and Student Services Council. She has passions in ensuring quality programming for students with disabilities, mental health, foster youth and adjudicated youth, and supports adequate funding for special education.
Anjanette Pelletier is a member of the Charter Hill Society for Psychology, a community of donors supporting the faculty & students of Berkeley Psychology via three-year commitments to the Annual Fund. To learn more joining CHSP, please contact Assistant Dean Christian Gordon