Meet CEC President Jim Heiden Career special educator Jim Heiden brings considerable administrative experience to his new role as the president of CEC. As a longtime member of CEC and the Division on Career Development and Transition, Jim has a unique historical view of our organization and a wealth of ideas about what we need to do to re-energize our membership and provide the services, products and support that our members need in an ever-changing educational environment. He shares his thoughts in this Q&A on CEC's new 2015-2017 Strategic Plan and how its member-focus will help build a strong foundation for the future.
Jim Heiden Fast Facts
Current job: Superintendent, School District of Cudahy, Wisconsin
Years as CEC member: 25
- Ph.D., Urban Education, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 2012
- M.S.E., Special Education, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, 1989
- B.S.E., Dual Education, Regular and Special Education, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, 1983
Leadership roles within CEC:
- Division on Career Development and Transition
- Acting Treasurer, 2006
- Past President, 2004
- President, 2003
- President-Elect, 2002
- Vice President, 2001
- Governor, 1998-2000
- Wisconsin Council for Exceptional Children, Treasurer, 1993-1998
- Council for Exceptional Children, Treasurer, 2011-2014
When did you join CEC?
I first joined CEC as a college student at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. It was, and still is, an important organization to belong to while you're in college because you have access to resources and people that are absolutely critical to your success in special education. I wasn't very active in my early days, but when I started a job as a transition coordinator, the agency I worked for required me to be a member, and they were impressed that I was already a member of CEC. With my new transition responsibilities, I decided to join the Division of Career Development and Transition (DCDT). My focus as a behaviorist led me to the Council for Children with Behavior Disorders (CCBD) and now I've finally become qualified to join the CEC Pioneers Division.
Is it true that this isn't your first time with the title of president within CEC?
Yes, that's right. I was actually president of the Student CEC back in college, so I guess that was a bit of foreshadowing.
How did you become involved in CEC?
I started becoming active with Wisconsin CEC (WCEC) and with national DCDT. I have always been good with numbers, so it was natural for me to take on the role of treasurer for WCEC. The divisions of CEC had, at that time, the position of governor, which was really the main liaison with the national CEC board of directors. But they were transitioning out of that governor title, so I became the last governor for DCDT.
How has being active in a division shaped your career?
You need people - other professionals - all throughout your career. When I was starting out, one of the things I was thrilled about in DCDT was how welcome I was made to feel, even though I was a complete rookie. Bob Innacone and Mike Wehmeyer in DCDT took me under their wings and the next thing I knew I was hobnobbing with Gary White and people I was reading about in professional journals. They were truly the parents and grandparents of transition, and I was shocked to find out that they were not only real people, but they were wonderful, friendly people. They couldn't have been more supportive of me and it made a world of difference in my career. It was extremely important to have other professionals who were passionate about the same transition issues as I was. DCDT was a place where I could always find resources or someone willing to talk over a concern or an idea I had. The people I met at DCDT have been colleagues during my entire career. I'm still active in DCDT and would recommend membership in a division to all of our members.
You are a few weeks into your role as being the 84th president of CEC. What was your path to leadership?
After working with DCDT for a number of years, I became the webmaster, which was a good spot for me because I like working behind the scenes. Then, Colleen Thoma, who was then the president of DCDT, called me and said that their treasurer had resigned and would I help? Colleen's a friend, so, of course I agreed to work to get her through her year as president. So, just when I was looking to return to my role behind the scenes, Colleen called me again. By that time, she was on the CEC Board of Directors and encouraged me to run for treasurer.
And you agreed to help your friend?
I actually said "no way." I was working on my Ph.D. and had too many commitments already.
And yet, here you are.
Well, I decided that it would be a great experience and that I could make a contribution, so I ran and was elected treasurer. I was treasurer for three years and had just been re-elected when we got the terrible news that Jeanette Klingner, who was president elect at that time, was gravely ill. When she decided to resign her position, CEC was in a tight spot and I decided to step up and throw my hat in the ring.
So much for being too busy and keeping a low profile.
Right! It's really more of who I am. I don't think I'm happy unless I'm involved in as many things as I can be.
Let's talk a little about your current role as a superintendent for Cudahy District Schools.
I came to Cudahy as director of special services thinking I'd probably only be there for a few years. That was 18 years ago! Nine years ago, the superintendent retired and I was asked to become the new superintendent. I have a very supportive school board and administrative team. My school board president thinks my work with CEC is a great service, not only to the field of special education but to my school district. I'm lucky to have such a great support system and I'm blessed to have such a supportive team of administrators.
How will your role as superintendent inform your leadership of CEC?
I'm right on the front line with my teachers, so I'll bring not only an administrator's perspective, but the perspective of all of the teachers I'm fortunate enough to work with. I understand first-hand the importance of high quality professional development. My teachers are facing numerous challenges and we do whatever we can to help them overcome problems and improve their skills. To me, the best professional development is the kind that teachers select themselves. When a teacher comes to me with a new app that works great with his students, and asks to learn more about it or do a webinar, then I know it's valuable to him and worth exploring. My teachers don't wait to be asked to do professional development, they seek it out and I'm proud of that. And they share whatever they learn with their peers, which is great.
How did you get into special education?
Finished my first year of college, and spent the summer trying to find my way. I applied for a job at the Bethesda Lutheran home in Watertown, Wis., a residential facility for people with disabilities. I spent that summer my first three months there working on a unit with folks with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. Some of them were very violent and I realized early on that it wasn't the right job for me. It got me back to college, and when I took my first education class, something just clicked. And I saw early on that special education was going to be my future. There was something about working at Bethesda that first summer that made special education make sense.
Wasn't there another great thing that happened when you went back to college that year?
Yes, I proposed to Sue, the love of my life. We've been married for 30 years.
Was there a resident at Bethesda who made an impression on you?
After I started my education courses, I worked at Bethesda in the summers as a seasonal worker. I was originally assigned to a children's unit, where I worked with a young man named Paul who had autism and was cognitively disabled. I worked with him on speech production and actually got him to the point where he could communicate verbally. For me, and I was just a 19-year-old kid at the time, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I eventually became Paul's guardian, and worked with him for a couple of years until he passed away. He was one of those people who have a profound effect on your life when you least expect it.
What's your definition of leadership?
Being the leader of CEC is a huge time commitment, and it can get a little crazy when you add it to the other pieces of your life. We have a lot going on at CEC - a new strategic plan, some issues that we need to tackle to build our membership. But, that's when true leadership comes forward, and it's time to step it up. I'm not one to shy away from a challenge, and I think that will work well for me during my year as president. I've been fortunate to work with other leaders at CEC who are committed and ready to do whatever it takes for CEC to be around for another 93 years.
What are you hoping to accomplish in the coming year at CEC?
First off, I want to make sure we stay completely focused on our members and bring as many new special educators as possible into CEC. I can't say strongly enough how important I think it is to belong to CEC. You may have resources available to you on the internet, but how do you know if it's quality information? CEC is the source of quality information for special educators. CEC is the standard bearer for the field of special education. When I'm hiring special education teachers, I say, "Tell me about your professional organizations." Even though we do our best to provide professional development, most districts have limited budgets for it. If I want my special education teachers to stay current, they have to belong to CEC. That also gives me an indication of how involved someone is in their field. Are they checking out the latest resources? Do they know the most current practices? These are all things you get from being a member of CEC. I want to make sure we're reaching as many special educators as possible with those messages.
You'll be at the helm during the first year of CEC's new 2015-2017 Strategic Plan.
Yes, and I'm really excited about what's ahead for CEC. This plan is just right in that it is simple and doable and was created using data and a huge amount of input from a variety of stakeholders. It's a plan that has the needs of our field and our members at its core. We'll be working on ways to recruit more special educators into our organization, strengthen the relationship between general education and special education, and work harder to pull all of CEC's state and provincial units and 17 special interest divisions together to provide a wide variety of resources for our members on the national level, the local/state level and within a special interest division.
Jim Heiden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This information is provided by CEC Special Education Today at https://www.cec.sped.org.