Camelot Profile: Principal Nicole Davenport
Nicole Davenport, with nearly 20 years’ experience in special education, graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in Special Education and later earned her master’s degree in Educational Administration from Purdue University Calumet. Before joining Camelot as principal of the Oak Park therapeutic day school in September 2013, Nicole spent much of her career as a teacher and principal at an Easter Seals school in Chicago that focused primarily on autism.
Where do things stand now at Oak Park?
We are just wrapping up our extended year program and preparing for our 2014-2015 school year. The extended year program is for students whose Individualized Education Program (IEP) says they are eligible. (All of Camelot’s TDS’s in Illinois offer the extended program.) Students who regress during a two-week period away from school are candidates for the extended program. Some of these students have made so much progress that they may lose some of those skills without the extended year services.
As you look ahead to 2014-15, what excites you the most?
We were all very proud of our first graduate this past year, and just as important we had three students who started reintegration back into a more traditional school environment. And this coming year we have three additional students that will be doing that also. That’s a major step for our kids. We as a team want to make that happen in every case where it is a possibility.
What do you find most gratifying about being a principal at a Camelot TDS?
The reward comes in seeing the positive impact that everyone on our staff that works with the students has on those students’ lives. The experiences our kids have here are sometimes the majority of experiences they are going to have. Helping them to feel a sense of success builds a confidence in them. Helping them develop the skills that make them realize they can be successful – when that light bulb goes on in their head and you see it – gives us the internal satisfaction that makes us want to be in this field. Every day we form relationships with these students, we build trust with them – and that’s hard with some of our students – we provide a lot of good role models. Being able to take advantage of that opportunity is really gratifying.
It must be difficult for families to have the kind of expertise needed to deal with some of the issues these kids have.
We see ourselves as very good resources for students’ families, whether we are assisting linking them to community resources or whether we’re seeing increased participation by families in the training and meetings that we have here, helping the families too, that’s big. The family is a part of the student. These parents are dealing with a lot of issues. A lot of our kids have significant challenges, and families often have a difficult time figuring out the best things to do. So it’s not only providing services here but it’s helping the families help the students outside of the school too. It really does come full circle with these families because they are an extension of the student. There’s no manual for families that says here’s what to do. It’s natural for a family to be confused and not know what support and resources are out there available to them. Part of our job is to help them figure that out and help them navigate.
Why do you think the Camelot model is successful?
It’s highly supportive. It’s positively focused. There’s a nice balance between helping our students understand that making good choices brings privileges, but at the same time we all have responsibilities to be good people, good to our community, good to our families, to make those right choices. I feel like the model promotes these ideas in a positive way. We’re focusing on skills, building upon skills and interest, and it’s all very positive and I think that sets us apart.
How would you describe your team at Oak Park?
They are wonderful! Although this was Oak Park’s second year, for me and many of the staff this past year was our first with Camelot and we had to learn to work as a team in the Camelot culture. We had to bring together a lot of skill sets and personalities and I feel that we became very cohesive. Everyone here is student-driven. All of the decisions that my staff makes are focused on what’s best for our students and their families. Now with a year’s experience stabilizing our culture and working with each other, I feel next we can enhance the quality of what we’re doing. We have most of the same students returning so we will pick right up where we left off.