Special Education Program Senior Staff

Special Education Schools Team Leadership

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 Director, WISCA Programs

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Marcia 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. Mrs. 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. Mrs. 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. Mrs. Wilkes also has a Home and School Visitor PA Education Certification from the University of Pittsburgh. Mrs. 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.
michele-trettel-special-education-program-director

Michele Trettel, M.Ed., TVI | Executive 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!

Jennifer Do, M.Ed. | Program Coordinator, WISCA Programs

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Mrs. Do has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Art Therapy from Mercyhurst University and a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy with Counseling Specialization from Seton Hill University. She recently obtained her  Master’s Degree in Education with her Certification in Special Education from Carlow University. She began her career as a mobile therapist working with individuals on the autism spectrum. She later moved into outpatient therapy and seeing individuals through private practice. When she moved back home to the Pittsburgh area, she worked as a Mental Health Clinician in a partial hospitalization program classroom for early childhood students for six years. She joined the Watson Institute WISCA program in 2015, where she began as the behavior specialist for the program. She has presented at conferences on topics ranging from art therapy with individuals with autism, special education in the classroom, and most recently at the PDE conference poster session on restorative practices.

Jamie Desrochers, M.Ed. | Program Director, Education Center Sewickley

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Mrs. Desrochers joined the Watson Institute in the summer of 2020. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary and Special Education from Clarion University and a Master’s of Science degree in Distance Education and Special Education Leadership from The University of Pittsburgh. She began her career as a classroom teacher educating students with special needs in district schools as well as an Approved Private School for students with severe behavioral needs. She then moved to teaching online at PA Learners Online for eight years and from there served as the Director of Special Education at PA Distance Learning prior to joining the Watson Institute as a Team Coordinator. She has presented at numerous conferences within the Commonwealth of PA as well as nationally, on various special education topics and distance learning education best practices in special education.

Education Center (Sewickley & South) Senior Staff

Erin Golec, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Erin Sterling Golec has more than 20 years of teaching and supervision in Special Education. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education from Duquesne University, a Master’s Degree in Early Intervention from University of Pittsburgh, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Waynesburg University. She has been endorsed by Penn State University in Autism Education and was nominated for a Temple Grandin Award in 2012. Mrs. Golec taught at the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit prior to her position at the Watson Institute and is a member of the Council for Exceptional Children. Mrs. Golec is married and her two sons attend Penn State University.

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. 

April Kelm, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Mrs. Kelm 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. Mrs. Kelm 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, Mrs. Kelm 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. Mrs. Kelm is excited to continue working with students at the Education Center!

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.

Jessica Kotula, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Kotula has nearly 20 years of experience working with children with special needs. Ms. Kotula earned her Bachelor’s Degree in the Education of Exceptional Persons from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, her Master’s Degree in the Supervision of Special Education Programs and Services, and a Principalship from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania for Administration and Leadership. She started her career as a learning, emotional, and autism support teacher before moving into administrative roles starting in 2014. Ms. Kotula joined the Watson Institute as a Team Coordinator at the Education Center Sewickley in August 2021.

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!

Andrea Rubin, 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.

Deanna Stock, M.Ed. | Team Coordinator

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Ms. Stock 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!

Friendship Academy Senior Staff

Amanda Bernsdorff | Program Supervisor

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Ms. Bernsdorff has taught children with special needs since 2002. She graduated from Duquesne University with a B.S. in Education with certification in Elementary Education, Early Childhood Education and Special Education. Ms. Bernsdorff has taught students from preschool to 5th grade while she was in Virginia. When she returned to Pittsburgh, she taught at the Watson Institute’s LEAP Preschool starting in 2010. She received her Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology in 2015 and is currently finishing up her second Master’s in Supervision and Leadership. She joined the Friendship Academy family in 2019 to teach 5th to 8th grade emotional support. Ms. Bernsdorff helped set up and now oversees the kindergarten program at Friendship Academy.

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.

Erica Caprini, M.A.

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Erica has over 15 years of experience working with families and students in various settings. She has been a psychiatric social worker for The Watson Institute Friendship Academy for more than ten years. She holds a Master of Arts Degree in Social Sciences from California University of Pennsylvania. Erica taught basic and advanced counseling courses at The University of Pittsburgh for six years in the Graduate School of Psychology and Education. She has vast experience in Family Structural Therapy and working with teens that have a dual diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and co-morbid mental health disorders. Erica currently serves as a consultant at Upper Saint Clair School District and a psychiatric social worker for the Watson Institute.

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.

Teresa O’Brien, M.Ed. 

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Teresa has worked in creating and supervising programs in the education and behavioral health field for more than 15 years, she currently works as an educational consultant with the Watson Institute. Teresa has a Master’s Degree in special education, along with completed course work and supervision in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In her current role, Teresa provides training and consultation to educational teams across a variety of settings. Her work interests include: enhancing behavior analytic programing within education environments, collaborating with educators to help develop and strengthen student behavior plans, and facilitating workshops/trainings on topics related to supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. In addition, Teresa provides consultation related to classroom set up and structured teaching.

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 several academic journals as well as magazines focused on issues of disability. In addition, Rachel presents at national, state, and local conferences and has participated as an expert speaker in the ADDitude webinar series. When she isn’t consulting, Rachel collaborates with the local medical community to promote resources for families with children with complex health needs.