Paula Nichols is a Northwest Indiana native who works hard to provide great services to students as the Director of Special Education for the La Porte County Schools.
She grew up outside of La Porte in a little town called Mill Creek. When she was in 7th grade a new family moved in her neighborhood. They had twins whose names were Chris and Paul. They were mildly mentally handicapped and needed babysitting.
“I watched those children almost every weekend for their parents, and I rode with them on this bus because kids would make fun of them. I made sure they got to their class,” she said.
The twins accidentally drowned together on a family vacation, and it broke Nichols’ heart, she said, but it was at that moment, she decided she would dedicate her life to special education.
In high school, she became more involved with special education. She graduated from La Porte High School and went on to Indiana University for her bachelor's. Her master’s and licenses are from Purdue University.
Her first job was working in a school for special education with severely disabled and emotionally disabled students. She became a behavior consultant and loved working with every kind of disability. She went on to teach in Michigan City for 25 years.
When she was getting her administrator's license, she ended up interviewing for Special Education Supervisor for La Porte County. She did the interview as part of a class and didn’t think much about it.
They called her that afternoon and offered her the job. She spent 14 years supervising, and has been Director of Special Education for La Porte County Schools for 10 years.
“I never thought I would be in administration, but there were a calling and a need,” she said.
As director, she serves five counties and about 2,200 students. Every day for her is different. Within one day she might balance grant writing, and budget meetings with working one-on-one with individual students with unique needs and creating individual education plans for special education students.
It’s a very busy job with lots of hours, but Nichols doesn’t mind. “I see our students reaching potential that nobody realized they would have. Whether it's being able to feed themselves, or understanding math for the first time or with certain accommodations they can walk or they can talk. It’s the rewards. It’s difficult. Our society is so hard, but if you keep focused on the mission, then it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.
When Nichols isn’t paving an easier way for special education students, she’s spending time with her family.
“The most amazing thing in my life is the blessing of my family. I have my four children and my nine grandchildren. We still play ‘Mother May I’ and hopscotch and I try to jump rope,” she joked. “I love gardening; I love to work with flowers. That’s my serenity. I love music too and I play the piano and the guitar for nobody, but myself.”
She enjoys cookouts with her family, and sometimes they attend South Bend Cubs games. Her family likes the Colts and the Cubs. Her grandchildren range from 1-years-old to nearly graduating high school, so she partakes in a wide range of activities with them.
“Many of the older ones are in plays, but with the young ones, we’ll bake cookies together,” she said. “We have lots of fun.”
Nichols’ favorite thing about Northwest Indiana is the seasons.
“We have the best of every kind of season,” Nichols said. “We have so many beautiful things to see. People complain about the snow but it’s just so beautiful. You have the beautiful leaves in the fall, and spring where everything is blooming, and summer is hot but it’s beautiful too. We have the lakes, too. I think people miss what we have when they travel other places to see it. I’m happy staying home."