It takes a village, the saying goes, but the new Rainier State School superintendent is getting a crash course in just how much effort it takes to run a 24 hour, seven day a week habilitation center for developmentally disabled individuals.
Harvey Perez, who came on board as the superintendent April 6, has spent the first three weeks of his new position getting to know Rainier staff and how the pieces of the school all fit together.
“There is a lot of diversity in the work,” said Perez. “You have to do laundry for the residents, cook for them, maintain facilities, you’ve got doctors and we provide medical care, social services and psychologists.”
As superintendent at Rainier, Perez is a little bit like the mayor of a small town. With close to 330 residents and 830 employees, Perez facilitates meetings between subject experts and Rainier staff to make sure communication is smooth on campus.
“You want to make sure they’re working well, they’re coordinating well, and they’re problem-solving well,” Perez said. “My job is to make sure everyone is working in concert.”
Although Perez is the leader of this community, he knows the backbone of the school are the staff, whom he has the ultimate respect for.
“I was raised by my single mom. Her primary occupation was a house cleaner,” said Perez. “There’s no glamour in it, but she worked really hard. I always have that appreciation, so when I am out on campus and I see people working laundry, I can connect to that because that is the kind of work my mom did.”
Perez’s mother died April of this year, and he said he keeps her in his memory when he walks around the Rainier campus.
“She was always about helping other. You’ve got to help others,” he said. “That what life is really about. So I like to honor her in that way.”
Perez’s predecessor was Neil Crowley, who retired mid-June of last year.
Doing more by doing less
Philosophically, the Rainier State School operates like any mainstream school. Rainier’s main focus is to help residents grow in their independence, just like any middle and high school in the country.
However, Rainier specializes by developing individualized education plans for each resident to help them reach their full potential.
“Employees work really hard to develop plans for each resident on how we can best support them. That’s the one thing that continues to hit home,” said Perez. “You can’t apply one treatment for all clients. We really have to understand each client.”
Perez told a story about a resident who gets around campus, albeit slowly, with her wheelchair.
“She enjoys getting around campus,” Perez said. “That’s her independence. You don’t push her, you let her do her thing. That’s honoring her.”
Perez said there is a fine line between respecting Rainier residents’ independence and trying to keep them safe and healthy, and with Rainier managing the gamut of resident abilities, from fully mobile to elderly and medically fragile, Perez said it is important to develop individual plans for residents so they can achieve their full independence.
“When we are looking at that plan, we try and look at it from the client’s perspective, and make sure it is really driven by the client,” Perez said.
Rainier focuses on what the school calls active treatment – activities and chores that promote resident independence – and training staff to recognize when a resident can help in a chore or activity, instead of staff performing it for the resident.
“Doing more means you doing less and the client doing more,” Perez said. “We are working diligently on that.”
Reach Ray Still at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-825-2555 ext. 5058. Follow him on Twitter @rayscottstill for more news, pictures and local events.