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About Magazine recently did an issue featuring top educators in Stark County.
Scott Russell has served Minerva Local Schools for 31 years, long enough that some of the students he knew as kids are now his bosses.
An intervention specialist, Russell teaches sixth-graders who have learning disabilities. He is a Malvern native who originally planned to study data processing at the University of Akron.
"In those days, it was just the beginning of the computer revolution, but after one semester, spending my days sitting in a room typing holes in cards, I thought, 'This isn't for me. I'm a people person.' "
Graduating in 1983, Russell taught three years at West Holmes Local before moving on to Minerva Local. He said he sees a greater understanding of special education today than when he started, noting that today's generation of special education teachers is better prepared.
"Anytime I would ever tell anyone I was in special education, the first words out of their mouth was 'Man, you must have a lot of patience.' I don't, any more than anyone else. What I like the most and learn the most is, each year I get a new batch of kids and I get to meet each kid on his level of learning Each kid is different. Each has his own needs. My job is to find that little thing. It's a lot of fun."
Russell said the biggest misconception is that special education students don't want to learn.
"It's been my experience that most want to learn, but there are demands that have to be met first," he said. "They have to feel safe. They have to be able to walk into your room and know that no matter what they do, they will be accepted by you."
Building relationships, Russell added, is critical.
"Kids don't care what you know about things in the world unless they know you care about them," he said. "Once you convince them you care, most kids will do anything for you. You still meet some stubborn ones or homes where they don't value education. We try to work it so the first few contacts with parents are positive. We try to convince them we're all on the same side."
Russell said the most common issue he encounters is students who struggle with reading.
"My belief is if I can improve your reading, you can improve in every class."
Russell and his wife, Janice of 34 years, have four children. Their eldest, Kevin, is a math teacher at Minerva High School.
"My wife is so supportive of everything I do for the school," he said. "When I coached two sports, she was always there, washing jerseys and water bottles. She also goes on all of our trips."
Russell said he's proud that Minerva Local embraces three rules first introduced by former Minerva Principal Richard Mike: compassion, respect and responsibility.
"I'm happy to be honored, but I come from a good team," he said. "There's not
really anything I do that everyone else in my building doesn't do. They all work hard. Everyone on the team contributes. All of my bosses at one time came through Minerva Schools. To work for them is just fantastic. All of these people make my life easy."