Tribute to Kay Cessna

As we enter our classroom for the first time this fall, let’s take a minute to reflect on the year to come. As we do so, we may hear a quiet whisper of encouragement in our ear or a flutter of assurance in our heart. Both are telling you that you what a privilege it is to be teaching students with learning and behavior challenges because they teach us so much. We constantly ask, “Why can’t they figure out that word?” or “What is the function of that behavior that drives me nuts?” That quiet voice assures us that we will find the answer to help each student if we just stay present.

Whose voice is that? I suggest it might be the spirit of beloved Colorado educator, Kay Cessna, working her magic one more time. You see, Kay left us in March 2018, but her indelible spirit lives on. For years she inspired us with her wisdom, humor and personal stories. We all came to look forward to her key-note speeches and opening day talks when she helped us make sense of the education scene and laugh at the dilemmas we face each day.

After teaching elementary kids for several years in Winsor, CO, Kay was one of the first in Colorado to be certified to teach for students with learning disabilities and emotional disturbances. Her passion, knowledge and charm soon brought her to work at the Colorado Department of Education where she helped form special education in our state. Kay was instrumental in defining special education services as “needs-based” rather then disability based. That philosophy has served our students well over the years.

Kay moved on after her time at CDE to take leadership roles in Jefferson County where educators there appreciated her steady and values-driven approach to the challenges they faced. Finally, Kay worked as a consultant with several projects across the state, bringing her skills and encouragement to help improve reading instruction and build solid school-wide and classroom behavioral support systems.

Much of what special education in Colorado is today and what special educators know and do is a reflection of Kay Cessna’s work and presence in our lives. She is profoundly missed. But her messages and lessons will stay with each of us as we teach, problem solve and live our lives. Thank-you Ms. Cessna!

Should you wish to make a donation in Kay’s memory, the Colorado Council for Learning Disabilities has a fund for Teacher Research. The purpose is to support teachers to ask questions, collect data and make decisions based on what they learn. Kay helped start that project and it was dear to her heart. She’d be pleased to know that it continues.

You may send your contributions to:

Attn: Cassie Harrelson

Colorado Council for Learning Disabilities

4520 Bryant Street

Denver, CO 80211