Special Education Program Senior Staff

Michele Trettel, M.Ed., TVI | Program Director, Education Centers

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Michele has been employed by the Watson Institute since 1995. She has been Program Director since 1997 and was previously a behavior therapist and teacher of visually impaired students at Watson. Michele spent eight years in early intervention as a developmental specialist, itinerant therapist and classroom teacher. Michele also holds a Supervisor of Special Education certification and completed the Applied Behavior Analysis Program through Penn State and holds a Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis. Michele’s major responsibilities include overseeing and supervising all of the day-to-day operations of the Education Center Sewickley and Education Center South, ensuring a quality educational program for all of the students. Michele also consults to school district programs. She has grown up around special education, having had a sibling with special needs, and truly loves her work!

Katie Patterson, M.Ed | Program Coordinator, Education Center Sewickley

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Mrs. Patterson has been employed by the Watson Institute since 2004. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary/Special Education from Duquesne University and a Master of Science degree in Education Leadership from Argosy University. She began her career as a classroom teacher educating students with autism, physical disabilities, and neurological impairments. In August 2013, Katie accepted the role of Team Coordinator at the Watson Institute’s Education Center Sewickley, and in July 2016 was promoted to the role of Program Coordinator. She lectures at a variety of conferences on structured teaching, autism, and assistive technology. For two summers, Katie had the opportunity to consult with Irish Autism Action and start up inclusive summer programs for students with autism in Dublin, Ireland. She has made it her priority to expand her knowledge of teaching to better serve students with special needs. Katie has also been recognized for her accomplishments in Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2017 Class of 40 Under 40 Honorees. 

Nancy Draftina, M.Ed. | Program Coordinator, LEAP Preschool

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Nancy has been employed by the Watson Institute since 1995. She has been the Program Coordinator for LEAP Preschool since 1997. Nancy’s depth of experience in early childhood and special education led to her involvement with the LEAP Preschool Program beginning in 1982. As part of federal and state funded replication grants, Nancy participated in developing and providing consultation to preschool teachers replicating the LEAP Program throughout the United States. Throughout the years, she has provided best practice strategies for inclusion and autism as a consultant to school districts, in workshops and with the development of educational materials. As a strong advocate for promotion inclusion in preschools, Nancy truly believes in high quality inclusive programming for all children and enjoy proudly presenting LEAP Preschool as an exemplary program for over 35 years.

Marcia Laus, M.Ed. | Program Coordinator, WISCA

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Mrs. Laus began teaching children with autism spectrum disorder at LEAP Preschool in 1982. Later, as a Family Service Coordinator at LEAP Preschool, Marcia co-authored the LEAP Preschool Parent Training Curriculum and began training activities with early childhood providers across Pennsylvania. LEAP Preschool came to the Watson Institute in 1995 and in 1998, Marcia developed the training curriculum for the LEAP Preschool Replication Project and supervised the replication project for four years. Marcia is currently the Program Coordinator of the Watson Institute Social Center for Academic Achievement (WISCA). She is also an Educational Consultant with the Training and Consultation Department of the Watson Institute providing training and feedback to school districts. Marcia has an Advanced Consultant Certification for TEACCH and participates as a trainer in the yearly Watson Institute/TEACCH workshops. She has conducted numerous workshops and presented at local, state and national conferences.

Samantha Generalovich, M.Ed | Education Director, Friendship Academy

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Samantha is the Education Director at Friendship Academy, bringing with her nearly a decade of experience working in the special education field. Samantha attended West Virginia Wesleyan College for both her undergraduate and graduate school studies, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education K-6, and her Master’s Degree in Multi-Categorical Special Education K-12. Samantha started at the Watson Institute as a classroom teacher and most recently served as the Educational Liaison, working with more than 30 local school districts to coordinate enrollment, IEPs, intakes, and tours of the program. She is certified in Applied Behavior Analysis and has had experience working in both the public school system and in charter schools prior to assuming her role at the Watson Institute.

Alexandra Wilkes, LSW, HSV | Director, Psychological Services & Program Director Friendship Academy

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Alexandra Wilkes is the Program Director of Friendship Academy and the Director of Psychological Services at the Watson Institute. Ms. Wilkes has over 20 years of clinical behavioral health experience, most recently serving as the Vice President of Clinical Services at Glade Run Lutheran Services. She rejoins Watson after having served as the Clinical Coordinator/Managed Care Coordinator at Friendship Academy from 2007-2015. Ms. Wilkes earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. Ms. Wilkes also has a Home and School Visitor PA Education Certification from the University of Pittsburgh. Ms. Wilkes also taught several classes over the course of six years as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Education in the Department of Psychology in Education.

Special Education Schools Team Leadership

Education Center (Sewickley & South) Senior Staff

April Ford, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Ford has worked at the Watson Institute since 2016, starting her career as a Special Education Teacher at the Education Center Sewickley before transitioning into the role of Team Coordinator. Ms. Ford earned her undergraduate degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix, a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University, and a Master’s of Education from Carlow University specializing in Early Childhood Education and Special Education PK-8.  In 2017, Ms. Ford was nominated for the Temple Grandin Award and is also the co-creator of the Harbor Sleeve, a wearable sleeve which can be used by children with special needs and their educators or caregivers. Ms. Ford is excited to continue working with students at the Education Center!

Andrea Helman, M.A., CCC-SLP | Lead Speech Therapist

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Ms. Helman has been employed with the Watson Institute since 2011 when she took a job as a Speech Therapist at the Sewickley campus right out of graduate school. Andrea received her ungraduated degree from Geneva College and her Master’s in Speech/Language Pathology from the University of Pittsburgh. Andrea has spent her entire career at Watson working with children on the Autism Spectrum as well as children with challenging behaviors. She has presented at state and national conferences as well as given lectures on AAC at local colleges. In 2017 Andrea took over the task of placing all undergraduate and graduate student clinicians at both Education Center locations and overseeing their time at Watson. In the beginning of the 2018 school year, Andrea took over the role of Lead Speech Therapist for the Education Center Sewickley as well as Education Center South. Andrea is looking forward to continuing to serve our students as well as take on this new leadership role.

Lisa Kellick | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Kellick has over 20 years of experience working with students with special needs, their families, and various educational entities. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education from Florida Atlantic University, her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Shippensburg University, and has Supervisor of Special Education and Principal certifications. Ms. Kellick joins the Watson Institute as a Team Coordinator at the Education Center South. 

Rayna Knox, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Mrs. Knox has worked at the Education Center Sewickley at the Watson Institute since January 2016, but was employed there during the summers of 2005-2007 for the Extended School Year program. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Elementary/Special education from Slippery Rock University, and a Masters of Science degree in Language and Literacy from Kaplan University. Although newer to the Watson Institute, Rayna has 9 years of experience teaching special education is other settings, both in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Rayna has led professional development sessions, mentored several new teachers, was nominated twice for the Dorchester County Teacher of the Year award, and led several school wide initiatives in her previous placements. She is excited to work with the students and staff at Watson’s newest special education school, the Education Center South.

Sally Rea, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Mrs. Rea has worked at The Education Center Sewickley at the Watson Institute since 2002. During this time she taught in a classroom with children diagnosed with autism. She then moved into a classroom teaching children with multiple disabilities, including those with cerebral palsy, neurological impairments and significant health issues. While at Watson Sally has been involved in several school wide initiatives, including the development of Watson’s LIFE Curriculum, piloting the new classroom website and serving on the technology committee. She also has mentored several new teachers. Sally holds certification in the areas of Special Education Supervision, Special Education and Elementary Education. While teaching in Texas, she also was certified in Teaching Children with Visual Impairments (TCVI). Sally is also TEACCH certified. In 2009 Sally obtained certification as a MOVE International Trainer (Mobility Opportunities Via Education). Sally has presented at school districts and at the university level. As a Team Coordinator, Sally supervises teachers, provides support to classrooms and facilitates IEP meetings. Sally enjoys sharing her passion for the classroom, both with the students and staff at The Education Center Sewickley!

Deanna Stock, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Spaziani has been employed by the Watson Institute since 2005. She obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary and Special Education from Clarion University and a Master of Science Degree in Early Intervention with a specialization in Autism Spectrum Disorder from the University of Pittsburgh. Deanna has also completed coursework as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). In August 2016, Deanna transitioned into the role of Team Coordinator and is responsible for coordination IEP meetings, supervising teachers and professionals, and working collaboratively with families and local school districts. Throughout her time at Watson, Deanna has developed a passion for making a difference in the lives of students with special needs and their families. She is a certified TEACCH trainer and has organized various fundraising events for Watson such as the Autism Speaks Walk team and booth. She has developed ways to fundraise and encourages staff to participate in Spirit Sales through activities including jeans days, “The Healthiest Winner” contest, candy sales, and Watson wear clothing sales, to name a few. She has made it her priority in her professional career to help support educational programming and success in functional and community-based life skills/academic activities. Deanna is excited to continue sharing her passion for the students, families and staff in her new role!

Alyssa Tyson, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Tyson has worked at the Watson Institute since 2014, starting her career as an instructional aide in a classroom, transitioning into a special education teacher for 5 years before becoming a Team Coordinator. Ms. Tyson received her undergraduate degree from Geneva College in Elementary and Special Education and a Master’s from Slippery Rock University in Special Education with an emphasis in Autism. In the summer Ms. Tyson works at The Pittsburgh Kids Foundation camps as the Discipleship Director. Her role is to create a healthy staff culture and empower staff to perform their individual roles. She has been a mentor teacher for the last four years at Watson, is certified in the Alert Program as well as the TEACCH method. She also has led trainings on Verbal Behavior to outside therapists and teachers. She looks forward to working with families and students in a new capacity.

Friendship Academy Senior Staff

Christine Caristo, M.Ed. | Program Supervisor

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Dedication to the mission and students with special needs is evidenced by Ms. Caristo’s more than 30 years at Friendship Academy. Her career began there as a Child Development Specialist shortly after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in Child Development/Child Care. Responding to agency changes and opportunities for professional growth, Christine has held the following positions at Friendship Academy: Behavior Management Specialist, Work Study Specialist, Career Training Specialist and Data and Accountability Specialist. Returning to school, Ms. Caristo received a Masters degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. She is currently employed as a Program Supervisor.

Victoria Daniels, M.Ed. | Program Supervisor

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Ms. Daniels has served children and adolescents in many different service systems for more than 30 years. Prior to joining Friendship Academy, she was the Education Director for Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), overseeing WPIC’s Licensed Private Academic Inpatient School Program. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters Degree in Special Education K-12 (Mentally and Physically Handicapped). Ms. Daniels currently works as a Program Supervisor and Coordinator for the Extended School Year Program (ESY) at Friendship Academy.

Special Education Consultants

Sophia Barrett, MS

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Sophia Barrett has spent more than 20 years supporting children and adolescents with behavioral challenges and is currently employed as an education consultant at the Watson Institute. She received her undergraduate degree in Social Work from Bethany College and earned a Master’s of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from Nova South Eastern University. In her role as an education consultant at Watson, Sophia provides consultation, training and support of the PBIS model, which she developed, to school districts throughout Western Pennsylvania. Through her school-based consultations, PBIS helps provide systems to support students struggling with behavioral challenges.

Cassie Budzilek, M.A., CCC-SLP

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Cassie is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist who currently provides consultation and training services to school district personnel. She has worked in the field of special education for nearly 20 years as a direct service provider and consultant. She obtained both her B.A. and M.A. in Communication Disorders from the University of Pittsburgh and completed her Clinical Fellowship at Kennedy Krieger Children’s Hospital in Baltimore, MD. Prior to working at the Watson Institute, Cassie worked for the PA Training and Technical Assistance Network where she served as the regional lead for the Autism and Speech-Language Initiatives. In that role, she provided technical assistance and training to school district staff across the Commonwealth of PA. Cassie holds the Bureau of Special Education Credential of Competency for Advanced Training in Autism Spectrum Disorders from Penn State University and is a recipient of 4 ACE Awards (Award for Continuing Education) from ASHA . She is a fellow of the Pennsylvania Education and Policy Fellowship Program. Her areas of expertise include autism, Asperger Syndrome, positive behavioral support, structured teaching and inclusive practices. She is a skilled presenter and has trained families, educators, and related service providers at both local and national conferences.

Leslie Corey | Coordinator, Community Based Instruction Services

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Leslie has worked in the field for more than 24 years helping individuals with disabilities gain meaningful employment, volunteer opportunities  communities. She is the Coordinator of Community Based Instruction Services and the Camp SCALE ESY Summer Program for the Watson Institute. She has been with Watson for almost 20 years providing secondary transition and community based instruction consultation for Watson’s various school programs (the Education Centers, Friendship Academy, and WISCA), contracted local school districts and their students and families. Leslie started as a consultant in 1999 and became the program’s coordinator in 2005. Leslie has a B.S. Ed. in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling and is certified to administer the McCarron-Dial Vocational Evaluation Battery of Tests. She is a member of several local organizations that promote disability awareness and school-to-work initiatives with disabilities. She is one of the co-chairs for the Allegheny County/City of Pittsburgh Transition Coordinating Council (TCCAC) and has been a member of the Westmoreland Northern Region Transition Interagency Committee, and the Greater Pittsburgh Supported Employment Association (GPSEA).

Christine Hughes

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Christine has worked for the Watson Institute in the Community-Based Instruction program since 2005. In her current role as a Community-Based Consultant, Christine works with school districts on a contract basis, as well as internally with the WISCA program.  Her roles include accompanying students out on community-based vocational experiences, as well as conducting job readiness classes and other pre-employment services.  Christine has a Bachelor of Science degree from Pennsylvania State University.  Prior to coming to the Watson Institute, she was employed by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in their HeadStart program.  Christine has also worked for the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau, as well as serving as a TSS through various local agencies.

Lynne Ireland-Knight

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Lynne has been employed by the Watson Institute since 2005. She has been part of the Training and Consultation department since her hire specifically in the Community Based Instruction Program.  Lynne was hired as a Community Based Specialist and currently holds the position of Community Based Consultant. Lynne previously held the position of Transition Coordinator for the WISCA program for two years. Lynne came to Watson with 20 years of experience working with adults with disabilities in the areas of residential and employment.  Prior to moving to Pittsburgh Lynne worked for 11 years with individuals with brain injuries and their families as a Certified Brain Injury Specialist.  Lynne was part of a team that conducted a study: “Peer Support in the Community: Initial Findings of a Mentoring Program for Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury and Their Families.” The study was published in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation in 2002.

Andrea Morris, M.Ed.

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Andee has worked in the field of special education for over 20 years and currently works as an educational consultant for the Watson Institute. She has a Masters of Education and M/PH Certification to work with students with mental or physical disabilities from the University of Pittsburgh. In her current role, Andrea provides training and consultation to educational teams serving students with disabilities in a variety of educational settings. Her areas of expertise include: autism and related disorders, inclusive practices, positive behavior support, naturalistic and structured teaching strategies. Prior to her work at Watson, Andee was an Early Childhood Consultant for the Early Learning Institute, Developmental Specialist for LEAP Pre-school and a Head Teacher for North Area Preschool. She has authored several journal articles and is a skilled presenter.

Lisa Plastino, M.Ed. 

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Lisa has worked with families, teachers and students in the field of special education for more than 25 years. She has a Masters of Education from the University of Pittsburgh. In her current position as an Educational Consultant at Watson, Lisa provides consultation and training to educational teams working with students with disabilities in a variety of settings. Her areas of expertise include: early intervention, autism and related disorders, inclusive practices, structured teaching and positive behavior supports. Prior to her work at Watson, she was a Developmental Specialist for LEAP Preschool. Lisa has also been a TEACCH trainer for a number of years and has co-authored several journal articles.

Rachel Schwartz, Ph.D., BCBA-D

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Rachel Schwartz is a doctoral-level Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) who has worked internationally creating and supervising programs for individuals with developmental disabilities. Rachel received her Master’s degree in Teaching and Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Pittsburgh. Rachel’s work interests include enhancing behavior analytic programming and exploring issues related to sexual education and quality of life. Rachel has published original research on these topics in special education journals as well as presented at national, state, and local conferences.  When she isn’t consulting, Rachel collaborates with the local medical community to promote resources for families with children with complex health needs.