A Look Inside the Outplacement Office
In this interview, Director of Outplacement Diane Kissner and Director of Communications Heather Pray explore the intricate process of transitioning out of The Windward School and into a mainstream educational setting. As stated in a key component of the School's mission statement, "Windward is committed to helping students achieve their full potential in preparation for a successful return to a mainstream educational environment." The Outplacement office is vital in ensuring smooth passage on to the next school.
Heather Pray: What is the purpose of the Outplacement office?
Diane Kissner: The office guides families through the process of leaving Windward. This includes working with teachers and coordinators to determine readiness and then guiding our families to find the right setting. When students are ready to leave Windward, the Outplacement office seeks to place them in an appropriate school where they will thrive and where they will experience challenges worthy of their skills and abilities.
When students are ready to leave Windward, the Outplacement office seeks to place them in an appropriate school where they will thrive and where they will experience challenges worthy of their skills and abilities.
HP: When does the outplacement process begin?
DK: Ideally, it begins in the spring prior to the student's final year at Windward. Students are identified by a team consisting of faculty, administrators, and Language Arts Coordinators. In order to prepare our families for the process, the Outplacement office holds an information session on each campus in the spring, followed by individual meetings with families to begin discussing options.
HP: When the School recommends outplacement, how is that determined?
DK: Readiness is job one, but we always look at the whole child. We weigh the big picture and look at all the different components including how the student's transition will be socially and academically. It's all about whether a student has internalized the skills and strategies they learn at Windward because we want them to be able to use those skills and strategies independently.
HP: And the outplacement process ends when students receive their acceptance letters from their next schools?
DK: Actually, the outplacement process does not end there. It is true that while kids get settled – they have their next school to go to – and everything is in place, we still track their progress by conducting alumni surveys every three years. Additionally, we love to hear from our students as they progress through middle school and high school and as they begin college, so we stay in touch as much as we can.
HP: Why does Outplacement continue to track the progress of alumni after they've left Windward?
DK: Windward wants to gauge the success of our students when they outplace, so we send surveys to the guidance counselors and advisors of alumni who have been out of the Windward program for two, three, and four years. Some of the questions include, are they working above average, in the average range, or below average in a particular subject, or overall? Are they receiving support in school, such as a resource room or extra academic instruction? Are they receiving accommodations to which they may be entitled? Are they taking a foreign language? Then we ask about social adjustment: Do they participate in extracurricular activities? We want to know how they're doing.
HP: In what other ways does Outplacement stay in touch with alumni?
DK: Even after the students leave, Windward continues to be a resource for our alumni and their families. For example, after the first couple of months of school, a student might face a challenge trying to learn a foreign language. Families will call us and ask, "What do we do?" They need advice. I do what I can and guide parents and guardians if they're having any kind of difficulties. We have had families call about colleges and ask for advice about accommodations for class work and tests there too. I'm delighted to say that I also get calls – maybe three or four per week – from alumni who simply want to call to share how they are doing.
HP: The Outplacement office coordinates an alumni panel for former students to give advice to our current students too?
DK: Yes. Every year we present an alumni panel to our eighth and ninth grade students. The purpose of the panel is to give our students the opportunity to hear about what to expect during the transition to high school. The panelists are chosen from every academic setting, including public, private day, and boarding schools. Our former students talk about how they use their Windward strategies for writing compositions and research papers, how they organize their assignments and responsibilities, the importance of self-advocating, and how they use their accommodations and any additional support. The presentation is very effective as our students hear first-hand about what high school will be like, but the panel is another great way for us to stay in touch with our alumni.
HP: Our alumni also have a chance to speak to faculty and staff every year. Why is this valuable?
DK: In a Professional Development session on Friday afternoon, we have an alumni panel talk to faculty about how they use their skills and strategies and how important that is going forward. Through their insights, the alumni give our teachers a sense of what they're learning, what is expected of students after Windward, and how well prepared they are when they leave our school. Our teachers are interested in the books they're reading, how projects are assigned, the amount of homework that they're getting, and how they are advocating for themselves.
Alumni give our teachers a sense of what they're learning, what is expected of students after Windward, and how well prepared they are when they leave our school.
HP: Let's see, you offer information sessions and alumni panels to the community at large. These are wonderful group events. But what does the outplacement process look like for an individual family once it begins in the spring prior to the student's final year?
DK: At the first outplacement meeting, we review the student's progress with their family. This includes a report from each academic teacher regarding skill levels, independent work completion, class participation, and ability to seek teacher assistance if and when needed. We review standardized test scores as well as neuro-psychological reports. Then we begin to develop a list of school options. By the end of the meeting, the family will have a plan, which will be reviewed and updated over the coming months.
HP: Then you work specifically with the outplacing students. What does that entail?
DK: First, it is important to get to know all outplacing students. This is accomplished by visiting academic classes as well through our own teaching. Director of Outplacement Tanya Ehrlich and I participate in GAINS [Getting Ahead in School] classes, a guidance class offered in eighth grade.
HP: How do you get to know the schools where our students apply?
DK: The first thing that I did when I started this office in 2003 was visit every school to learn all about them and decide which ones would provide an appropriate academic program for our students. I started with the day schools in Westchester, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rockland. Since we've always had kids from Manhattan here in Westchester, I became familiar with schools in the city too. Next were boarding schools. Reaching out and making personal connections with admissions directors is a crucial role for our office. Being committed to making the right match means knowing a lot about the schools up for consideration and knowing a lot about the student. It also means making sure that the schools where our students want to attend know Windward and are confident in the potentials as well as the abilities of our students.
Being committed to making the right match means knowing a lot about the schools up for consideration and knowing a lot about the student.
HP: Have there been cases when a school doesn't know about The Windward School or a school has a misguided understanding of who our students are?
DK: I was always struck by the fact that everyone had heard of Windward, but beyond that, there were schools that had no idea of who we are, what we do, or who our students are. The first thing that I felt I needed to do when the office first began was to educate schools about our program and our students. Once schools began to understand our mission and how we achieve that mission with each of our students, they were intrigued. Since then, one thing that has changed over the last few years is that we have begun exploring some of the New York City public middle schools and high schools as potential destinations for our students. With the opening of our campus in Manhattan, it became clear that we have to provide our Manhattan families with excellent options for independent, private, and public schools.
HP: Is the procedure for selecting public schools for outplacement different from selecting independent schools?
DK: When families are considering a public school option, our CSE (Committee on Special Education) Parent Liaisons Peter Beardsley and Lara Damashek get involved. They work with families whose students have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) through their public schools. Together, the Outplacement and CSE offices speak to the public school staff, assess the level of support they provide for their students, and determine whether that level will be an ideal fit for a particular student. The Outplacement office helps our parents manage the public school process along with Mr. Beardsley and Ms. Damashek.
HP: Does it ever happen that students are unhappy with their next school, and if so, does the Outplacement office help them as well?
DK: Absolutely, we always help and happily, it is an unusual occurrence that a student is not well-placed. Usually, this has more to do with social issues than with academic issues, but either way we are there to provide support. In the exit meeting with a parent or guardian, when we are wrapping up, I always say, "We're always here for you. If there's anything that comes up, I really hope you'll call." And they do.
I always say, "We're always here for you. If there's anything that comes up, I really hope you'll call." And they do.
HP: How do you manage supporting so many students?
DK: Well, I certainly don't do it alone. Tanya Ehrlich is the Director of Outplacement in Manhattan. She and I collaborate in planning meetings with families. Our Administrative Assistant Gina Naclerio is the person who handles all the recordkeeping. She is the gatekeeper for our families, and she does a magnificent job.
HP: Reflecting on the growth of Outplacement over the past 15 years, what has been one of your most inspiring moments while working in this office?
DK: There have been many inspiring moments! Every time I hear from an alumnus or former parent, I'm thrilled to hear about the achievements of individuals who attended The Windward School. Also, it's very exciting when families make their final decisions and are looking forward to what is coming next. Finally, I never tire of reviewing every year the long list of schools that accept our students.
HP: In your 23-year career, working at Windward thus far, – ranging from the Admissions Office, Tutoring department, teaching language arts classes at Westchester Middle School, and Outplacement – what has been your favorite part?
DK: I really love visiting schools and educating the public about what Windward does. I also love working with the families and, of course, working with the kids. But one thing that's been fabulous is the fact that I've always taught here. I really know the Windward program very, very well, which gives me credibility when I'm talking to the public. That's been a gift. The other great thing about being here is that I love working with our faculty. To see how the school has evolved, how professional our young people are, and how committed they are to being the best teachers they can be here is really remarkable.