Jennifer Pusateri, Danville Independent
Kentucky School Advocate
Q: You are an expert in universal design for learning (UDL). In fact, you are a senior consultant for UDL at the University of Kentucky’s Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching. Can you tell us what UDL is and why it’s important?
A: UDL is the idea that if we design teaching and instruction to meet the needs of students on the margins, other students will benefit and all students will achieve at a higher level. An analogy is curb cutouts in sidewalks, originally designed to aid those in wheelchairs. Because they are available to everyone, we all use them. As an example of how UDL could work in the classroom, if a student has dyslexia, I might use an audio version of a text or, if there’s a video, turn on the subtitles. Taking those measures also helps other students, including those with language, attention or auditory issues.
Q: In addition to your work at UK, you have a doctorate in education sciences, previously worked at the Kentucky Department of Education and have taught in a K-8 school. How does your education experience help in your board service?
A: All those experiences have caused me to look at things through different lenses. Our board is always looking at issues through different lenses. Right now, we have one member who works in diversity, equity and inclusion at Centre College. Another has worked as a superintendent, principal and at the Kentucky School for the Deaf. Our board members are proactively thinking about removing barriers for students, staff and families.
Q: You have a lot of experience in education, but what have you learned by serving on the board that you didn’t know before joining the board?
A: There is a segment of our community who feel our school district is “not what it used to be.” At first, I was a little overwhelmed by the number of people who would email the board and stop me in the grocery store. They had a lot to say, but they were not ready to put on the big boy pants and come and help. I wasn’t prepared for the many opinions. I had to make an adjustment and realize that, yes, these are my neighbors, but I first need to think about our students, staff and families.
Q: You recently published a book on UDL that you wrote as you worked full time, earned your Ph.D., served on the school board and managed family life. How did you find the time?
A: If I am doing something I really am interested in, I get hyper-focused. Before COVID, I drove an hour to and from UK every day so during COVID, as we worked from home, I gained 10 hours in my week. I used some of that time before and after work to work on the book. Also, my mother moved to Danville with us when we came here in 2017, and she helped with my daughters. My oldest also got her driver’s permit during COVID.
Q: Education isn’t your only passion. You are also a singer and an actress. Can you tell us about this part of your life?
A: My undergraduate degree from Indiana University was in vocal music and fine arts. After I graduated, I thought it was an unmarketable degree, but it is what helped me get a teaching job because I could teach all the arts. I did community theater when we lived in Shelbyville, and then this year, three days after I got my Ph.D. in May, I auditioned for “The Addams Family Musical” with the West T. Hill Community Theatre here in Danville. I played the mother of a Midwestern boy who Wednesday Addams wants to marry. I only like to do musicals. I also help my daughter in the Drama Club and theater group.
Getting to know
Hometown: Evansville, Ind.
Family: Husband, Joey; daughters Kira, a Centre College freshman, and Sadie, a Danville High sophomore.
Favorite subject: Choir; social studies
Hobbies: Theater, knitting and crocheting, mostly to keep my hands occupied while I do something else.
Book: “Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom” by Lisa Delpit. It depends on where you live, but in most places, most teachers are middle-class women who are teaching students who are from backgrounds different from them, like students of color or who are poor. This book shows how to teach children who have a different background than you.
Interesting Fact: I am a classically trained opera singer but instead of opera, I channeled my singing into show choir. Now I sometimes sing with church choirs and other local choral groups. Also, I have a limited-series podcast through UK called “UDL in a Nutshell.”