Retiring special education director gave 40-plus years of dedicated service

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Gerry Craun has been a passionate voice of special education in Pawhuska Schools for almost as long as those programs have existed here.

The undeniable fact that she also represents the heart and the soul of the district’s special services was apparent Friday, as dozens of Craun’s past and present colleagues attended a reception for the longtime special education director, who is retiring after 40-plus years of local benevolence. Some drove hundreds of miles just to pay tribute to the esteemed educator.

Craun arrived at Pawhuska in January 1976, fresh from her student training as a special education teacher at Hissom Memorial Center.

“P.L. 94-142 had just passed,” Craun said, referring to the 1975 Congressional Act which mandated free public education for all children, regardless of handicaps or disabilities. Public Law 94-142 had a dramatic, positive impact on millions of children in every state and in each local community across the country. And, Craun played a major role in making sure that was the case in Pawhuska.

She worked here 4 1/2 years while helping the district lay the groundwork for its new special services programs. Craun moved away briefly while her husband, Pawhuska native Alan Craun, finished working on his degree — also in special education. She spent a year administering psychological tests as a state psychometrist and then six months teaching emotionally-disturbed people in Sand Springs.

In 1981, Mrs. Craun received a call from C.G. Arnold, who was then the superintendent of Pawhuska schools. Arnold offered her a job. The Crauns returned here — she as school psychologist and he as a special education teacher. Alan Craun retired in 2009 after more than 27 years as a local instructor specializing in math.

She became director of special education for Pawhuska Schools in 1990 — “officially.” However, even her former supervisor admitted Craun had actually held that position “unofficially” for several years.

“When I came here as assistant superintendent, one of my titles was director of special education,” said retired Superintendent Ben West, who arrive in Pawhuska in the mid-1980s. “But, Gerry was the ‘real’ director of special education.”

The retiring director said there have been many changes in special education during her long and distinguished tenure.

Hissom, the state school where Craun had first trained, has long since been boarded — part of what she said marked “a big change in special education.” All such intitutional-type schools were closed in an effort to include those student populations in the general education/community environment.

“From removal from the general-education environment to serve students, to encouraging full-time placement, the changes in IDEA (Individual with Disablities Education Act) to No Child Left Behind,” said Craun, as she recited the litany of change — some seen as good and some, not so good. “To not testing students, to testing special education students with EOI’s and OCCT’s, and with no modifications.

“Most recently, we have become a response to intervention school, with an emphasis in intervening with students before they fall so far behind to be identified as learning disabled,” she continued. “I’ve also seen a better movement in identifying children as autistic rather than intellectually disabled.”

Regardless of her belief in the value of the different changes, Craun always remained an irrepressible advocate for the students she has served.

Dr. Landon Berry, the current superintendent, said Craun “has always got a smile on her face and a positive outlook.”

“She will usually give you a hug when she arrives and another hug as she leaves,” Berry said. “Above all else, she’s trying to do the right thing for the kids.”

West called the district’s special ed instructors “a special breed.”

“That’s because of Gerry, because she’s the one that set the bar,” the former superintendent said.

Craun said retiring was made all-the-more difficult for her because of her close personal relationships with local faculty and staff — those from decades ago, as well as the newer breed of educators, like Elemenatary Principal Byron Cowan.

“We have been blessed in Pawhuska with caring teachers-teachers who have been willing to try ‘new methods’ and stay abreast of the research — those who put countless hours into providing an education for our students,” the retiring director said. “I will miss the teachers, administrators and especally the Special Education teachers who made my job easy.

“But, most of all,” Craun added, “I’ll miss all of our wonderful students.”