EdSource Interviews California’s New Special Ed Director

On August 14, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond appointed Heather Calomese as the state’s new Director of Special Education. One month into her appointment, Calomese sat down with EdSource’s Carolyn Jones to discuss her background, as well as her goals and priorities for special education in the state.

Calomese has a background in journalism. But her passion was always in education. Eventually, she moved out of the news room and into the classroom.

“Supporting and being of service to others and really maximizing independence for students and families is what drives me in this role,” she told Jones.

This is an incredibly challenging time for special needs students, their teachers, and their parents. It’s a fact Calomese did not gloss over.

“I think one of the main challenges is providing a free, appropriate public education while school campuses remain closed. As we know, distance learning can present a hurdle for students that receive support and services.” However, she added, “nothing is insurmountable.”

Expanding opportunities for students with disabilities is Calomese’s chief objective — what she calls “the ultimate North Star.” But she is also dedicated to addressing issues of racial and social justice.

“We need to continually examine our system and address issues that oftentimes have an adverse impact on our students and families of color,” said Calomese, who is African American.

Read the entire interview here