The Saratoga Sun -

Riker retires

Twenty-four year Special Education Administrator looks forward to traveling, hobbies

 


Following a 35-year career in special education, 24 years of which were spent in Carbon County School District No. 2 (CCSD2), Deb Riker has retired as the district’s Special Education Administrator. Riker has had the fortune to be one of those lucky people who has a career doing something they love.

“I knew I always wanted to be, somehow, in education, because I loved school. I was great in school. I’d line up the teddy bears and I’d teach them when I was little,” said Riker.

While Riker knew that she always wanted to go into education, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go into special education at first. As she went through school, however, and saw the way in which the education system treated students with special needs, she became interested in making education fair and equitable for all students.

“Actually, special ed law didn’t go into effect until I was in high school, so I never really saw a lot of the kids that, now, are out there. They were either kind of isolated or some of the more severe needs were sent away and I remember going through, thinking, ‘Just retaining kids or passing them through certainly can’t be the way to deal with kids with problems,’” Riker said. “Even at Christmas break, I’d find that these pretty severely disabled kids were there and I’m thinking ‘Where are they living the rest of the time?’”

Riker was certain she wanted to pursue a career in special education, but attending the University of Wyoming (UW) cemented her decision.

“When I got to UW that’s what I started in and that was like ‘This is it! This is what I want to do,’” said Riker.

A career in special education isn’t easy and decisions have to be made on the best approach for each child. 

“It’s just kind of a balancing act because there are times when a kid really needs some individualized, specialized instruction. At the same time, they learn so much from their peer group and in being the environment where they should be. You have to balance how much of that you need to make it what’s best for kids,” Riker said.

Those decisions aren’t made alone, though. Parent involvement is encouraged as a student goes through school and, many times, Riker was presented with different perspectives that reminded her that there isn’t always one way to go about the job.

“It’s what we probably should do for every kid, whether they have a ‘disability’ or not,” said Riker.

Like any good teacher, Riker stated that the students she has had over the years taught her more than she ever taught them. At the most recent meeting of the CCSD2 Board of Trustees, Riker told the board that whenever she went out to test a student, Special Education Secretary Carrie Craig would ask her to bring back stories.

“When I talked about the stories that sometimes were rough, some of them have a lot of barriers to overcome and some of those are maybe genetic type things, some of them are environmental, some of them are just situational and they still just rise above,” Riker said. “Some of them, just the way they see things and their sense of humor. You just have to laugh and I’m like ‘Thank you for that because you just made my day.’ I was testing a little girl, she was in kindergarten. She looks at me, she goes, ‘You know what? This is just the best day ever.’ Well, I never thought of me testing someone thinking that, but I think she just liked the one-on-one attention and we got to stop and talk.” 

Riker credits Craig with keeping her focused on the important aspects of the job. While federal mandates, the amount of paperwork and the amount of reporting can get overwhelming, Craig often reminded Riker that the most important part was the students.

“Carrie was a big part in reminding me why we’re here,” said Riker. “Carrie got to know a lot of our students, too, because I’d have parents come through and see me and I’d always introduce them. She even, at one time, transported some of our kids when they needed another person. So, yeah, she was good. We were a good team, I think.”

Now, 24 years after taking the Special Education Administrator position, Riker has the fortune to see many of the students, some she has known from kindergarten through their senior year, start families of their own.

“That’s the positive aspect of staying in a community so long,” Riker said.

As she retires, Riker is leaving behind a legacy in more ways than one. While she has had an effect on many students throughout her career, she also had an effect on her two daughters, Linsey Riker-Fisher and Dani Litton, who have also pursued a career in education.

“I’m really proud they’re both in the education field. What they told me, once, is ‘Mom, you always went to your job and we always knew you liked it’ so I’m glad they saw that. Dani’s a speech pathologist in Cody and Linsey’s an art teacher in Cheyenne. So, my hope is I’ll get to see them a bit more often,” said Riker. “Dani reminded me I’ve made it to Cody twice this last year.”

As Riker heads into a retirement filled with hobbies and traveling, she and her husband will remain in Carbon County, living outside Encampment.

“When your husband’s not in education, your life calendars don’t line up. His downtime is in the fall, that’s my busy time. He can’t always get off during a Christmas break. So, I look forward to having a little bit more time that we can be flexible and do things together,” Riker said.

With Riker retired, her position will be filled by Robin Brown, who also brings experience to the job.

“She’ll be fine because what she has going for her is the kids at the center of her decision making and at her heart. She has a nice number of years experience. She’s been in a different situation, she has a really good background of the law and she works well with people,” said Riker.

Still, if Brown needs some advice, Riker is only a phone call away.

“She knows I’m here. I’ve never quite a job and then not moved.”

 

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