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Helping children a way of life

Neal Weiss, 55, is retiring as the district's director of exceptional student education.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 2000


INVERNESS -- Neal Weiss might have chosen his profession based on practicality, but working with special-needs children was already in his blood.

Weiss, who is retiring as the district's director of exceptional student education at the end of June, inherited his interest in teaching from his father and mother. He knew it wouldn't take much to lure him into the profession. At the time Weiss was graduating from college in the late 1960s, he had recently married and was not eager to join the conflict in Vietnam. He wanted to explore fields where he could keep from being called to service, and his options were to go work in a defense plant or go into special education.

So he visited a school.

"I was immediately and thoroughly and forever entranced with special education," Weiss said. Some nine years later, after working in a special education position with a school in Long Island, N.Y., Weiss decided it was time to move the family to a warmer climate. He had specialized in teaching some of the toughest children to reach, those with severe emotional problems.

"I wrote to every district on the coast," Weiss said. "There was a hiring freeze that year." But somehow, Citrus schools weren't in that bind. The special education director called Weiss and encouraged him to visit and apply. That was 25 years ago.

Once Weiss, 55, came to the area, he found that the county was quite progressive in the programs and facilities available to special-needs children.

"This is and was a district that is deeply committed to meeting the needs of all students," Weiss said. "We really were quite state of the art way back then, and I would really like to think that we still are."

His first job in Citrus was in a guidance position at Inverness Primary School. Over the years, he worked in several different locations and in different job categories, finally working himself into the ESE director job. In 1986, he switched into a job overseeing personnel operations for the county, a position in which he investigated complaints against employees.

Then, about five years ago, Weiss moved back into the ESE director job. "I missed the environment of children, and in the end I was glad to go back to it," he said. "It's one thing to work with a child and in the end see some success and another to call an educator into your office and tell them that their career in education is over."

Both of his parents were special educators, and the Weiss family will include at least one more generation of educators. Weiss and his wife, Virginia, who also is retiring from the school district, have two sons. Both excelled academically, earned Eagle Scout awards and pursued professional careers. Doug Weiss now works as a physical therapist while Brad Weiss teaches math to gifted students."

Weiss said he feels satisfied that he has spent his career making a difference to students while working to move the district forward with its exceptional programs. But he also said he hoped he helped everyone on his team.

"I'd like to be thought of as someone who really did all he could to foster education and special education and that I helped teachers and aides and counselors and everyone," Weiss said.

Weiss and his wife, who works at Inverness Primary School, plan to stay in touch with friends in the area but are moving out of the county to live in retirement. Weiss said he hopes to learn about whatever school district is near his retirement home and stay involved in education.

He also said he plans to do some consulting work, but also wants to enjoy all the benefits of being retired.

"Work is very enjoyable, but it's not everything," Weiss said. "To be able to devote full time to your family, your friends and your interests, I have the opportunity to do that now."

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