The way Judy Franklin sees it, each child is a puzzle.

Each student she taught during her time in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district had specific needs, and it was her job to figure out how to help each one develop skills and overcome obstacles.

“The joy I felt when I was able to work out how to guide them on their unique learning path — now that is a wonderful feeling,” she said.

It’s a feeling that Franklin has enjoyed throughout her career, which is drawing to a close after 36 years in the local district. The longtime special education teacher is slated to retire at the end of the school year.

Franklin said she’ll leave with a trove of good memories from her time as an SMMUSD employee, thanks mostly to the teachers, assistants, parents and children she met along the way.

“This has been a job where one has meaningful interactions with a high number of people,” she said, “and I think an unusually high proportion of those people are simply great individuals.”

Franklin fell into a special education career by chance.

After moving to California in the 1970s, she had to wait several months to receive her state teaching credential. While in limbo she contacted SMMUSD about job opportunities and was steered to an opening for a special education instructional assistant.

“To my surprise, I quickly knew that I loved the work,” she said. “I found the children fascinating and delightful, and I especially appreciated that the work was individualized to meet each student’s specific needs.”

From 1978 through 1994 she taught at Grant Elementary School, creating individualized curricula for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

For the last 21 years she has been stationed at McKinley Elementary School, where she has led the collaborative special education preschool program.

Franklin has been involved in a variety of supplemental initiatives throughout her career in the district.

During the 2001-02 school year Franklin and colleagues received a grant from the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation to fund visual resources for at-risk preschoolers to promote early literacy. Programs included daily guided reading, alphabet and word recognition, journaling and interactive activities.

She also participated in the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program, mentoring numerous new special education teachers.

Her work involved regular meetings with families and other support personnel.

A Pacific Northwest native, Franklin studied education at Washington State University before moving to Southern California in 1975 with her husband, Los Angeles native Phil Jamtaas, whom she met in college.

Franklin went on to receive specialized credentials from Chapman College and Cal State Los Angeles in 1978 and 1984, respectively. In 2003 she earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards as an exceptional-needs specialist.

Retirement will allow Franklin to spend more time with Jamtaas and their 25-year-old daughter, Allison, a graduate student who is working towards a doctorate in psychology.

“I look forward to having time for regular exercise, gardening and basically being free to do what I want when I want — but I also plan to continue to work part-time as a consultant and trainer,” she said. “That seems like it will be a perfect balance for me.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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