After 35 years in "one of the best professions that a person can choose," Janis Hammar said she wishes to join her husband in his retirement.
"We just want to travel and do some things while we still can," she said. "I've never been to New England in the fall because I've always been working. So, I just want to see the leaves."
Mrs. Hammar has been the Director of Programs for Exceptional Students and Student Services for McDuffie County schools since March 1993. The job description that accompanies the long title includes overseeing the county's programs for gifted students as well as those with learning disabilities, the state's equity policy, school counselors, social workers, nurses, school psychologists and educating the homebound.
"Things that don't fit in the norm - that fall outside the regular things that happen in the school day," she said.
Mrs. Hammar has served in education since 1971, first as a Montessori teacher, then as a school psychologist and a special education director in Warren County. Her desire to work outside "the norm" came from growing up with a sister who had a learning disability. Mrs. Hammar said she remembers her mother and sister struggling with homework, working with tutors and seeing specialists at the University of Georgia.
"It was so traumatic for my parents and my sister, that one day I thought I'd like to be able to intervene in situations like that," Mrs. Hammar said.
In McDuffie County, Mrs. Hammar has been instrumental in the success of collaboration. In collaborative classrooms, general education teachers share teaching responsibilities with special education teachers, and children with disabilities are involved in the same activities and expectations as their peers without disabilities.
Mrs. Hammar said the secret to collaboration success in McDuffie County is the voluntary approach, allowing teachers to volunteer to participate rather than assigning them.
"I'd like to see collaboration continue," Mrs. Hammar said. "We have seen so many improvements of student performance and attitudes there...but of course that's a funding issue."
Mrs. Hammar believes everyone benefits from collaboration. She said during the second semester this year, a general education student at Thomson High told his mother that the algebra they were doing was so hard that they needed two teachers.
"He never realized that the other one was a Special Ed teacher. He just said it was lucky he had two teachers and the others don't. So when they really share the load, it's just a win-win situation for everybody," Mrs. Hammar said.
The best things about her job, according to Mrs. Hammar, are the people she works with - "We're like a family, that is what I'll miss the most," - and the unexpected events that happen during the day - "There's no way to ever get bored with this job."
In addition to traveling in their motor home to the New England states during her retirement, Mrs. Hammar said she and her husband look forward to visiting their son and two grandchildren in Houston, as well as other relatives in Minnesota, Utah, Oregon and California.
Meanwhile, the school board is looking for her successor.
"I don't want her to retire," said Barry O'Neill, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "Janis has been invaluable to me and to the system because of her experience in special education and her expertise and her knowledge of the constantly changing legal and procedural issues. It's like an ever-changing field, and a very important field to provide the services for our students. It's been good to know I could rely on her to take care of that area for our students, and finding a replacement will not be easy."