BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Michele Gardner, Director of Special Education for Berkeley Heights Public Schools, is an educator who is highly regarded and respected for her outstanding work by her colleagues and the families she works with. As such, it is with enormous pride that the Berkeley Heights Public Schools announce that Gardner has been recognized as the New Jersey Special Education Administrator of the Year for 2020. This prestigious award recognizes a Special Education Administrator who demonstrates ‘outstanding leadership in providing services to students with disabilities and whose work reflects the highest professional and ethical standards.’

“Once in a while, as educators, we come upon colleagues who are truly outstanding in their work,” said Annie Corley-Hand, Principal of MKM-ECC, “During her time in Berkeley Heights, Gardner has distinguished herself with continuous improvement to the special education program and as the primary champion for students with special needs.”

Gardner began working in the Berkeley Heights Public Schools in March 2009 as the District Supervisor of Special Services. From July 2011 through June 2012, she was the Assistant Principal at Columbia Middle School (she also served in this role on an interim basis from March through June 2011). Since July 2012, Gardner has been in her current role as District Director of Special Services where she is broadly valued and admired by her colleagues and the families and students that she advocates on behalf of. 

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“Ms. Gardner believes developing meaningful relationships with families is a critical part of her work and effectively collaborates with families focusing on developing solutions for students with learning differences,” said Corley-Hand. “Driven by unbridled energy, commitment, and focus, she has endured warring factions, ideological battles, high-stakes legal cases, and the push and pull of competing forces in her efforts to create inclusive environments in our district. Additionally, she respects the essential role of parents as collaborators insisting that IEP development is done through shared examination of goals, strategies, and assessment, and of innovative learning processes and outcomes associated with incorporating parent involvement in children’s education.”

Gardner is widely respected by her colleagues for her passion and commitment to students and frequently reminds them that, “Kids don’t need to earn their way into general education. It’s their right.” She is an ardent supporter of students and is constantly seeking innovation and new ways to ensure that BHPS schools are supportive and inclusive environments and that modifications are made available for any student that needs them to ensure their success. 

According to former Superintendent of Berkeley Heights Schools, Judith Rattner, “Ms. Gardner has worked to provide a comprehensive professional development program for the district based upon needs assessments. Michele has been integral in identifying inclusion teaching teams and then worked to provide them with the appropriate professional development to help make them extremely successful. The inclusion model in Berkeley Heights has been recognized as exemplary by the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education (NJCIE) for making a difference in inclusive education for schools, children, and families in New Jersey."

Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Scott McKinney added, “As the Director of Special Services, Ms. Gardner is responsible for programming and instruction for the population of students with special needs from Pre-K through high school. Within this area of responsibility, she has worked with the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education to support the district goal of increasing the general education learning opportunities through the expansion of a full-day, co-teaching model districtwide in grades K-5. Additionally, she has continued to enhance our highly successful ABA Program that has supported our K-5 student population and is now transitioning to support our students all the way through the high school level.”

In addition to this most recent recognition, in February, Gardner was honored by the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education as a champion of inclusive practices in special education.  

“Ms. Gardner goes above and beyond each and every day. During her time in Berkeley Heights, she has distinguished herself with continuous improvement to the special education program increasing our inclusion rate and creating co-teaching models to ensure the least restrictive environment for our students. We are so fortunate to call her our colleague and our friend,” concluded Ms. Corley-Hand. 

Before coming to Berkeley Heights, Gardner held a variety of impressive positions throughout New Jersey including a Learning Disabilities Teacher-Consultant/Autism Program Coordinator, a Special Education Teacher/Autism Specialist, and a Teacher of Special Education. Gardner has also served as an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Education at The College of New Jersey for the past 12 years. She earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Special Education and her Master of Education Degree in Special Education, both from The College of New Jersey. Gardner continually engages in professional development and presents at local, state and national conferences.  She serves as President of UCASE and works collaboratively with the Union County Supervisor of Child Study Teams and participates in statewide discussion on inclusion with the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education and New Jersey Department of Education. 

Thank you, Ms. Gardner, for all you do for the students of Berkeley Heights, and congratulations on this well-deserved recognition.