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Disability center hit hard by early retirement

Cody Jendro
September 28, 2015

When Palomar College offered early retirement last spring, some areas of the college saw a big loss of leadership, the Disability Resource Center was no exception.

The department — designed to provide counseling services and accommodations to allow for students with disabilities the chance to reach their full academic potential — lost its leader, staff member and five more employees.

Ron Haines, former counselor and director for the department, retired following the Spring 2015 semester after over 30 years with the college. Staff Aide Mary Tuttle followed Haines’ retirement move. The five student workers graduated.

This fall, the department is temporarily being overseen by Brian Stockert, Dean of Counseling Services, until a permanent director is hired on.

Aaron Holmes, alternative media specialist for the DRC, is currently overseeing on-site department operations.

“We hope to have a permanent director by mid-November or early December,” Holmes said.

DRC student, J. Castro who is blind and has been utilizing the department’s services for several semesters noted that the staff changes have allowed students to manage themselves more independently.

“With the reduction in staff…The changes are not negative nor positive. I have noticed that some students are getting more involved with their individual case. In the past, some students failed to take charge of their own situation. (Now) students are learning how to be more productive and proactive concerning their own individual needs,” Castro said.

In addition to the changes in department director, new office staff is expected to be hired by next month. Angie Martinez-Heffner is the department’s new Interim Sr. Administrative Secretary. Martinez-Heffner made the transition to the DRC from her previous position with Palomar’s Enrollment Services and Financial Aid.

“I already knew many of the DRC students from helping them in Enrollment Services, so that part is nice,” Martinez-Heffner explained.

The new DRC secretary said she feels that even though she has worked at Palomar for 15 years, the new position will provide her with more knowledge of the students and the overall work environment.

“I love getting to experience a new level of student service and learn so many new things daily. I enjoy new challenges, look forward to continuing to learn new things and to continue to help update the DRC procedures,” Martinez-Heffner said.

The DRC offers full counseling services to their enrolled students. The counseling section of their department is also expected to grow.

“Right now we have two full-time counselors and two part-time counselors. We hope to hire on a third full-time counselor by the end of the Fall 2015 semester,” Holmes said.

As the transition of staff continues, DRC counselor Lori Meyers shared her optimism about the upcoming changes. Meyers also noted the departure of Haines has been a hard adjustment.

“Ron (Haines was) the heart of the Disability Resource Center, and we miss him dearly,” Meyers said.

Meyers also vowed that even through this transitional period, the DRC staff will unite as a strong team of counselors and advocates to guide their students in the best direction possible.

“We are excited about (hiring on) new staff, because they will provide fresh experience. Endings always bring new beginnings. The new counselors will provide new experiences for all of us. Our goal is to work closely with the students in an effort to help them reach their educational goals and dreams,” Meyers said.

Martinez-Heffner added that once staff positions are filled, it will put the department back in full-working order.

“We are running the whole department on a skeleton crew and I am so excited (we will) be back to a fully-staffed department. This will help the day-to-day efficiency of how the office runs,” Martinez Heffner said.

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