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Phillips Middle School's Kaleigh Vogan Honored with Exceptional Children Educator of Excellence Award

To meet Kaleigh Vogan is to encounter one of the brightest stars in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro galaxy; overused as the saying might be, Vogan truly shines, day in and day out. Her powerful impact and gifts as an Exceptional Children (EC) teacher at Phillips Middle School earned her the 2018 award as Exceptional Children Educator of Excellence. Her colleague, lead autism specialist, Tania Treml, offers the highest praise. “Kaleigh is most likely the best educator I have ever worked with. I feel everyone enjoys working with her, so together they have great results with student success. She truly is phenomenal.”

Vogan landed in CHCCS by luck and happenstance. After completing a master’s degree in elementary literacy at SUNY-Fredonia, she applied for teaching positions around the country, and ended up accepting a reading specialist opening at Phillips in 2013. Before she could get started, that position was eliminated, and so she accepted a job at the school as an EC instructor, since she is dual-certified in EC and literacy. “I loved teaching reading,” she said. But once she settled into her new position, she realized “this is way more fun than I ever expected!”

Her frequent use of the word “fun” in regards to her work with students, families and colleagues is a strong tipoff to how she approaches each day, and each new school year. She thrives on the embrace of lifelong-learning, and she said in EC work especially, “you learn as you go.” Although she has considered returning to school for her doctorate, she keeps reminding herself that she is learning more, “working with my kids, the EC team and our families. We wear so many hats as EC teachers.”

K Vogan with admins and award “Kaleigh brings a genuine level of joy and excitement to every relationship she has,” said David Bouldin, EC compliance and program coordinator, who nominated Vogan for the Educator of Excellence award. “This joy cannot be masked or disguised. She is invested in all of her families, and takes the time to foster strong relationships. She strives to build and encourage environments that focus on the academic, social and emotional growth of each child.”

Vogan works with the sixth grade team at Phillips, so her collaboration reaches across the departments and subject areas. In the tremendously important transition from elementary to middle school, children with special needs usually require even more attention and support as they leave the familiar single classroom structure to which they have grown accustomed. During the summer before her new students enroll at Phillips, Vogan is learning as much as she can about them and their families. Before classes begin, she invites them to the school for private tours to see their lockers and talk about their schedules. In reviewing their IEP’s and accommodations, she develops strategy lists for each child that she shares with their teachers.

“Kaleigh attends all the transition meetings for rising sixth graders and begins to plan accordingly for what needs to be in place,” said Treml. “She reaches out to all her students and their families and invites them in to meet her and the other teachers before school even starts. She takes the time to connect individually with the students to begin to build a relationship with them.”

In the end-of-year SNAColades newsletter offered by the Special Needs Advisory Council and EC parents, one parent wrote, “Moving from elementary school to middle school is a big transition for any child, but can be even more difficult for a child with special needs. From the moment Kaleigh reached out to us last summer for a school tour, I had a good feeling about sixth grade. Having Kaleigh as part of my son’s team  has made such a positive impact. When he needs her, she is there for him. For our son, knowing that he has her support has been a huge comfort for him and for us.”

Treml added, “I was in a meeting recently with her, and she did such a good job of explaining how the student was performing, his strengths and his challenges, and she really listens to parental concerns. I could see the parents relax during the meeting, knowing their student is in such good hands.”

Vogan relies on her experience and training, as well as her sharp intuition and ability to “read students,” at the same time she is incorporating data into her work. “I love really studying kids, figuring out what’s going on. First I ask myself, What do I see-- and then I look at all of the data we have on them.” She is quick to credit the full team at Phillips, from the administration to her sixth grade EC teaching partner.

Treml and Bouldin both highlight her outstanding collaborative skills. “I have seen teachers across the building work well with her because she will listen to their concerns and is creative with problem solving for how to help each student reach their potential,” Treml said.  “Kaleigh does not hesitate to take on additional responsibilities to make sure that a student is successful. She will have students in her room before and after school, during lunch and throughout the day. We are grateful for all that Kaleigh brings to our school.”

“Kaleigh understands how important the role of the school is in a child’s life,” said Bouldin. “She not only has the skill to help students grow, but also supports the adults in the school to ensure their focus on student success. Kaleigh is an exemplary educator who takes personal pride in supporting her students, co-workers, and parents to the best of her ability.”