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Celebrating the Individual Student

UNSUNG HERO

The Unsung Hero is designated by Superintendent of Schools Lori S. Duerr to shine a well-deserved spotlight on individuals in the Falmouth Public Schools who make invaluable contributions to the district. 

Morse Pond School Special Education Building Administrator Katie Hergt

Celebrating the Individual Student

By Sarah E. Murphy 

Katie Hergt sitting at her deskGrowing up in Townsend, Massachusetts, Katie Hergt spent countless hours “teaching” her stuffed animals lesson plans she created from her storybooks. 

“I knew at a young age I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to teach, or what age group,” she said. 

Katie eventually found her future niche in high school, when a friend invited her to coach basketball and swimming for the Massachusetts Special Olympics. Although Katie played on her school’s basketball team, she didn’t particularly consider herself athletic. 

However, looking back, she believes the experience validated her childhood dreams, while also helping sharpen her focus. 

“I found my passion working with individuals with disabilities, from first-graders to adults, and I discovered that I loved coaching,” she said. 

“That really got my wheels turning.” 

As a college student at Bridgewater State University, she participated in the school’s five-year Master’s program, and received a degree in elementary education with a concentration in earth science, a subject she briefly envisioned pursuing as a teaching career path. However, it was another hands-on experience, this time in BSU’s Saturday morning Children’s Physical Developmental Clinic, which further cemented her calling. 

“That clinic ended up being the best aspect of my entire college career. I got the chance to work one-on-one with students of all ages and levels of ability,” Katie said. 

“I loved setting goals with the kids and their families, and seeing them achieve those goals. It was really incredible to be part of that.” 

Katie initially came to Morse Pond School in the Fall of 2010 to complete her student teaching with an eight-week assignment. She was so drawn to the work and the atmosphere at the school that although she eventually moved out of her aunt and uncle’s summer home, where she was staying temporarily, she never left Morse Pond. 

“I feel so lucky to have had that experience. It was a great learning year for me; I learned so much from the amazing veteran teachers here,” she said. 

Now in her seventh year as Special Education Building Administrator (SEBA), Katie credits former principal Andrea Schwamb for convincing her to extend her time at Morse Pond, in addition to former assistant principal Kerri Whipple, who had previously served as SEBA.

“They both always encouraged me to try things out of my comfort zone,” she said. 

Therefore, Katie served as a substitute teacher and teaching assistant for general education and special education classrooms, ultimately feeling at home in the Connect classroom, which comprises students who experience challenges in traditional classroom settings.

“At the end of the day, that was the population I enjoyed working with the most. It was challenging but also the most rewarding,” she said. 

Katie’s role as Morse Pond SEBA is unique and multi-faceted, for not only does she manage the transition for students on IEPs (Individualized Educational Programs) from all four elementary schools to 5th and 6th grade, she also works with Morse Pond sixth-graders and their families as they make the move to Lawrence School.

“Our students come in with such an elementary model. They still need a high level of support and guidance from their teachers, and we’re lucky to have the structure to be able to do that, but it takes a lot of planning.Transition-planning between the schools is critical, and I think people would be shocked to learn how many meetings we have in order to plan for that transition, usually beginning around March,” she said.

Katie also provides individual transition-planning for parents at the end of the summer prior to the beginning of school. 

“We offer visits for students who are worried about making that switch. I love that it gives me a chance to get to know the incoming students before we see them,” she said. 

As a mother to Connor, a second-grader at Mullen-Hall, and three-year-old Charlotte, Katie understands the anxiety that often accompanies transitions, for both parent and student. 

“I can sympathize with how nerve-wracking it is to send your child to a new school, especially when they’ve spent PreK through fourth grade at the same place. They’re used to their schools, and they know their routines,” she said. 

She added that middle school offers its own challenges. 

“It’s such a wide age range, from 10 to 12, and it can be difficult to maintain the innocence of some children while dealing with the maturity of others. It’s a real balance, and planning for their needs is so individualized,” she said. 

Katie is grateful for the opportunity to watch students reach their potential.

“The best feeling is being able to sit as a team at an IEP meeting with everyone feeling like they’re part of that team, and on the same page, including the parents,” she said. 

“That’s why I love working in Special Education. Students have these challenges, and we get to help them overcome so many of them.”

Katie used to keep a hand-written sticky note on her desk, with the words Go See Kids on it as a reminder to herself to get out of the office, a motto she continues to practice. 

“It’s easy to get bogged down in paperwork and meetings, so it makes me really happy when I get the chance to go into the classroom. That’s why I got into this line of work,” she said. 

Katie is the second person in her family to receive the Unsung Hero Award. Her husband, Ryan, a Sergeant with the Falmouth Police Department, and a graduate of Falmouth Public Schools, was recognized in 2019 for his work as a School Resource Officer. 

“I’m honored but I feel a little silly being singled out, since everything we do here at Morse Pond, we do as a team. That’s what makes our Special Education Department so great. I feel so incredibly supported, and I hope my colleagues feel the same,” she said. 

Special Education Secretary Ursula Bohnenberger validated that feeling.

“Katie is very kind. She’s always there for you, and she’s always willing to jump into a situation,” she said. 

“She doesn’t fluster easily. She takes her role very seriously, but she also has a great sense of humor.”

Special Education Teacher Beven Grant agreed, citing Katie’s hands-on nature. 

“Katie never comes in with a ‘that’s not my job’ attitude. If she sees someone needs help, she jumps in and helps,” she said. 

“While Katie’s job is an administrative job, I think she gets the most joy when she is with kids. Even if she is dealing with a discipline issue, you can tell she just loves being with students - and they love being with her.” 

Morse Pond School Principal Timothy Adams credited Katie’s people skills, particularly when it comes to conducting IEP meetings. 

“Katie possesses a tremendous ability to empathize with families. Although you’re in a formal setting, you’re talking about someone’s child, so it has that emotional layer to it. It’s a hard topic sometimes, and getting the whole room to work together as a team is a gift she has,” Mr. Adams said. 

“I was formerly in the same role at Mullen-Hall School, so I know how challenging and how unique each meeting is, even with the same families. You have to be a leader, a facilitator, and a listener, all at the same time. She has a really nice balance of steering the agenda, but also making sure everyone has a voice at the table.”

Mr. Adams also referenced Katie’s communication and organizational skills. 

“It’s a big responsibility and undertaking to work with all four elementary schools. It’s a very large puzzle, all the documents she has to pour through. She has an acute ability to take in a lot of technical information and synthesize it for parents to help them understand the plan for their child,” he said. 

Like his colleagues, Mr. Adams noted Katie’s team-oriented nature. 

“She has a willingness to be available for anything. She’s ready to roll up her sleeves and go to work, no matter what the job is. During Covid, she was outside at 5 pm rolling logs on the field so kids would have chairs to sit on,” he said.  

“She cares deeply about this building, and she makes everybody feel at ease, including students, staff, and parents. She’s a really good person to work with, someone you want in the trenches with you.”

Superintendent of Schools Lori S. Duerr underscored Katie’s commitment. 

“Katie brings a wealth of professional knowledge, practical experience, and personal dedication to our district. In her role as SEBA for Morse Pond, she works tirelessly to help our students transition with excited anticipation to the next chapter of their educational career, while also helping them thrive each day. Additionally, she is helping to set up our incoming Lawrence School students for continued success,” Dr. Duerr said. 

“But perhaps most important, Katie serves as a constant source of wisdom and support for our Clipper families and staff. The emotional intelligence she possesses is something that can’t be taught, for it’s inherent. We are extremely lucky to have her expertise and compassion.”

Sarah E. Murphy 
s_murphy@falmouth.k12.ma.us