On a recent Monday afternoon, Michele Feiner sits at her desk in Academic Support Services office, on this particular day responding to emails as part of her new job as Coordinator of Disability Service.
According to Feiner, this job is essentially a rebranding of the former Learning Specialist position as part of the pending Johnson and Lyndon merger.
While the title is different, Feiner’s work with students, staff and faculty remains essentially the same: providing specific learning accommodations for students with documented learning disabilities.
“I look through and . . . evaluate requests for accommodations, look through files, make sure diagnoses are in there, look at what has worked for the student before, and I create what is called an accommodation plan for students,” Feiner says.
Feiner is certainly not new to this kind of work. For 17 years she was Bellows Free Academy – Fairfax’s school social worker. Prior to that she taught at the preschool, third and fifth grade levels.
Having been a first-generation college student herself, Feiner says this new position is a natural fit for her as she brings to JSC a first-hand understanding of the problems that confront many college students, whether first-generation or not. “The college experience was a critical piece of what was coming next in my career as well,” said Feiner. “Johnson has that reputation of being a place that works well with students who struggle . . . They want to help students . . . so that just fits.”
Feiner notes that the job entails finding a proper balance between providing appropriate learning accommodations for qualified students, as dictated by the Americans With Disabilities Act, while still holding them responsible for meeting their academic obligations.
“What the students really need sometimes is not what the faculty really needs,” she said. “There’s a balance there between professors feeling like they can teach what they need to teach and how they teach it.”
Feiner says she hopes to find that compromise between students and professors to create an environment that benefits the needs of both to the extent that is possible.
As she settles into her new position, Feiner says she is still getting acclimated, starting with the basics of establishing rapport with the many students she serves, as well as the staff and faculty with whom she works.
It’s a matter of “getting to know peoples’ names, staff and students. When there are 200 students coming through my door at times . . . that’s what you do,” she said.
Feiner replaces former learning specialist Kevin Fleck, who left JSC after serving for one semester.