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SHIRLEY — It is the week of July 4, and Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School Assistant Principal Roberta Buratti-Aikey is sitting in her office fielding phone calls from parents and staff.

Although her tenure as second-in-command at the school is only one year long, she is certainly no neophyte to the district. Buratti-Aikey, known to most of the school community as Berta Aikey, is a seasoned professional who has worked in the Shirley School District since 1979.

With a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders, Aikey started out as a speech-language pathologist at Lura A. White Elementary School under Principal Burt Coffman. At that time, the school served students in grades 1 through 8.

In the late 1980s, as the inclusion model for placing special-education students in regular education classrooms developed, she began taking college courses part time and soon discovered that her love was in reading. Once she became certified in Wilson Language Training, she thought, “This is where I want to go.

“At that time, speech and language pathologists worked more with special-education teachers when doing English language arts work,” she said. “Oral language morphs into reading, and we need oral language skills to do well in reading. It’s a natural segue.”

When the middle school separated from Lura White eight years ago, Aikey moved to the new middle-school building. “I became really the expert in the building for reading and became the reading specialist for special-education students,” she said.

Teamwork

Speech-language pathologists work with parents, staff, physicians, audiologists, psychologists, social workers and counselors. They become experts in teamwork, and, said Aikey, Coffman and Lura A. White special-education Director Barbara Paisner served as superb role models.

“Special education is a vital component of the general education process. You need to have the leaders working well together, and they just meshed. It was a wonderful experience for me,” she said.

Her own years of experience and training, including those in school administration, have prepared her for the position she holds today.

“One of the key roles as an assistant principal is student and staff safety, which includes discipline. But another key is to work with special education, because that is a big piece of how the school runs as a whole, with scheduling, with working with parents, and working with staff, because there can be a lot of issues,” she said.

She explained that much of her work in reading involved phonological awareness, which consists of skills typically developed gradually and sequentially through preschool. “Because it is something that has to be built from the beginning, if younger kids are struggling in reading, we need to have spot-on diagnostics to find out what is going on and target those specific things.

Continued next week.