FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Phillippa Ewing, Ashworth Creative
Phone: 845-877-0410 ext. 107
Client Web: www.andersoncenterforautism.org
TWO ASSISTANT PRINCIPALS SHARE ONE JOB, ONE MISSION: OPTIMIZING THE QUALITY OF LIFE OF YOUNG PEOPLE WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
Andrew Dease and Jayson “Jay” Pistritto share their days and challenging job with good humor and a positive attitude. They work at Anderson Center for Autism’s Education program. The job they share, Assistant Principal, involves operating the administrative program of a school serving children at elementary, middle school and high school age diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, some non-speaking, who are among the most challenging students any teacher can face. Talking to Andrew and Jay you can see the reasons they work so well together. Both see their position less as a job and more as a vocation. Andrew said he knew he wanted to be a teacher from 8th grade. “Teaching is not a job where you get paid the most, but you will get the most out of it.” He says, “You have a job to make a living, but you have to do something that pays your soul a bit. This is the job for that.”
Jason Pistritto, aged 31, has worked at Anderson Center for Autism since 2006. Armed with Bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University at Albany, he was working in a lumberyard when he saw Anderson’s ad for a Teaching Assistant. He applied and worked for a year in the classroom. He appreciated Anderson’s flexibility and the fact that he was able to transition from Teaching Assistant to different work roles in an Anderson Residence, which he did for nearly five years. He was meanwhile, in his own time, acquiring a Bachelor’s and Masters degrees in education. An opportunity opened up at Anderson for him to teach in a Tier III classroom, working with older individuals. Since the majority of the students are residents as well, it has been an advantage for Jason to be able to have perspective on both sides of a student’s life.
Andrew Dease, aged 29, has worked at Anderson Center for Autism for 7 years, also beginning as a Teaching Assistant. He saw it as an opportunity to see if special education with Anderson was for him. “I fell in love with Anderson and became aware that this population keeps you on your toes.”
As both Andrew and Jason started at the bottom and worked their way up within Anderson, their emerging leadership qualities were noticed. They were both invited to continue their education by taking dual certification in School Building Leadership and School District Leadership.
Both men see their job as a “calling.” Andrew says, “The job keeps you thinking, keeps you involved.” Jayson describes the role as a combination of “a professional, parental and care giving role. You have to be aware of the whole scope.”
What makes teaching at Anderson different is that the teacher has to have exceptional flexibility. Jayson Pistritto says, “When you come into this field you have to learn to work with staff. You are always working with a team of up to six adults in a classroom, along with your students. You need to be able to supervise, collaborate, give directions and bring everyone onto the same page.” At the same time, Andrew Dease comments, “you can come into the classroom, prepped to the gills and be ready to drop it all, to let go of your plans because your students need something else.”
Just under two years ago, Anderson Center for Autism began working on a new mission, “optimizing the quality of life for individuals with autism.” Both Andrew and Jayson welcomed the new perspective. “We saw it is a chance to become more creative, to explore ideas that we’ve wanted to do, seeing education through our students’ eyes, and their parents’ eyes,” says Pistritto. For Dease, it involves responding to the challenges of the “unforeseen day. We have to provide proactive supports for students and teachers, know the plans, get out in front, educate and keep it safe.” Their administrative style is directed towards backing up teaching processes with evidence and outcomes. A key part of enhancing a student’s quality of life is helping them to understand and realize goals. Both men see quality of life as an individual concept. They want their students to succeed. They would encourage employers in the community to think differently about job opportunities for individuals with autism. Jayson says, “If need be, adapt the task and the standard of jobs. If one of our individuals cannot stack shelves, they may be able to match colors and differentiate between items. It’s on us to help them succeed.”
Two days of each student’s life stand out to Dease and Pistritto. The hardest is student admission day. Dease describes it: “The parents are so upset, fearful of separation and they say it is ‘the hardest thing I have ever done’.” Pistritto responds that at the other end of the spectrum is Anderson graduation day. “Every day is what you make it. But on graduation day you have the rare opportunity to see what we’ve accomplished.” For parents, that is a memorable day. When the hardest decision they ever made is shown to be the right choice, for their child and their family. Andrew Dease puts the satisfaction this way, “I don’t want an easy job, I want a job that challenges me mentally.” Or as he said, “one that pays your soul.”
About Anderson Center for Autism Anderson Center for Autism is New York’s premier autism treatment and care center. It is a not-for-profit organization located in picturesque Staatsburg, N.Y., dedicated to providing the highest quality programs possible for both children and adults with autism. It employs 800 specialists who are expertly trained to diagnose, treat, and care for adults and children on the autism spectrum. For more information, visit andersoncenterforautism.org