Sonoma County Office of Education

SCOE Employee Center

Employee Spotlight: Nikki Lessard and Matthew Miller

09/26/2017 - Matthew Miller and Nikki Lessard in their classroom

SCOE Special Education Teachers Nikki Lessard and Matthew Miller take a team approach to the two autism classes they lead at Kawana Springs Elementary. Nikki teaches grades K-2, while Matthew teaches grades 3-5. They work closely together to create as seamless an experience as possible for their students. That includes mixing their classes in "buddy groups" each Friday, so that each teacher has half the other teacher's students. This allows the younger students a chance to get familiar with Matthew so that when they move up into the higher grades, they feel more comfortable.

It helps that Matthew and Nikki first started teaching together 18 years ago - when Nikki was just getting started as a teaching assistant in Matthew's class. Now they've come full circle and are working together as peers. They describe their students as brilliant, creative, and interesting. Read on to get to know them better.

Nikki Lessard

Years at SCOE:
18 years - I started as a Teaching Assistant in Matthew's classroom.

Job Title:
Special Education Teacher

How do you describe your job to people outside SCOE?
We specialize in teaching high-functioning students with autism in a program where the focus is academics, and social skills/thinking. I teach grades Kindergarten through second.

Where did you grow up?
Sonoma County - Sebastopol

Who was your favorite childhood teacher and why?
I didnít really have a favorite until Matthew. I learned so much from him when I worked with him as a TA.

What is your favorite thing about working for SCOE?
I just love the job. I think the job is really enjoyable. Itís fun to watch the little kids grow up and learn.

What is one of your most memorable moments as a SCOE employee?
Once, when I was working in Matthew's classroom as a TA, we took four severely autistic kids to a donut shop. A little old man came up and said, "What a beautiful family you two have." We played it off like, "this is our family, thank you."

Outside of work, what is your favorite hobby or way to unwind?
I travel wherever I can. I took a 500 mile walk across Spain this summer.

What is your favorite place in Sonoma County?
Bodega Bay.

What is one thing that might surprise people to learn about you?
I have no kids and I don't want to have any.

Matthew Miller

Years at SCOE:
19

Job Title:
Special Education Teacher

How do you describe your job to people outside SCOE?
I teach students with mild-moderate to severe autism in grades three to five.

Where did you grow up?
The East Coast - Connecticut and Vermont.

What is your favorite thing about working for SCOE?
I think SCOE has such incredible resources. I feel so lucky when I see the consortiums trying to do it by themselves. We have so much experience, expertise, resources, support and training. When I was first hired by SCOE, the Director of Special Education, Gary Moe, sent me to North Carolina to be trained in TEACCH (T.reatment and E.ducation of A.utistic and C.ommunication H.andicapped Children). The Director, explained to me, "We need you to create a TEACCH classroom that will educate children with autism using the most current methodologies and is legally defensible." I created that program and kept it going for fourteen years. SCOE invests in teachers.

What is one of your most memorable moments as a SCOE employee?
Millions. I was really excited when I was able to switch tracks mid-career. I had taught classic autism in grades K-2 and then started something absolutely new and different: older and much higher-functioning kids. It was very exciting and terrifying Ė like starting all over again with a new totally different kind of program. Also, I feel so fortunate to work at such a positive, highly structured, and inclusive school, Kawana Springs Elementary. The Principal, Carol Castro, and all the Kawana staff, Americorps, and students have done so much to include our students in Kawana Springs Elementary. We have mainstreamed students in to academic classes with the assistance of the Principal, Carol Castro. Americorps has taken our students in to the after-school program, "Cool School." Kawana Springs is an inclusive. social, academic and supportive environment for ALL students.

Outside of work, what is your favorite hobby or way to unwind?
Training and competing with my horse, and I love my dogs

What is your favorite place in Sonoma County?
Downtown Sebastopol.

What is one thing that might surprise people to learn about you?
People say, "Oh, Matthew, youíre so calm and quiet with the children.' Iím faking it because my mind is not always calm. Sometimes, it's just the more difficult the situation, the calmer I have to pretend to be to on the outside.