Shelton Yip: SELPA leader builds a culture of respect
Originally published in EdCal, 8/18/14
Shelton Yip, ACSA’s Special Education Administrator of the Year, didn’t plan to become a school leader when he entered teaching. But like many other facets of Yip’s life, things happened in unplanned ways.
As a teen parent, Yip didn’t plan to go to college, but a counselor talked him into applying to one school – UC Davis – and he was accepted.
At Davis, he hadn’t planned to become a student activist, but when he noticed the high drop-out rate for students of color, he was moved to action. Yip and some fellow students founded the Cultural Center on campus in 1972 in order to provide peer support and guidance for students of color.
The Cultural Center still exists on the Davis campus today.
Now, Yip works to provide a full continuum of special education services to 2,000 students as Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) director in Napa County. Yip oversees services such as assistive technology, behavioral intervention, occupational therapy, social work, speech/language and psychological services, as well as classroom instruction.
But his efforts include much more, including establishing a mental health early intervention program to diagnose emotional disturbance in elementary and middle school-age children. Yip has also testified at numerous hearings regarding state and federal special education law, and has even been elected to the Board of Trustees of the Yolo County Office of Education.
Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko said it is Yip’s “extraordinary ability to conceptualize and explain the complexities of special education law, as well as his exemplary personal and political skills,” that make him a worthy recipient of the Administrator of the Year Award.
“Shelton became Napa County SELPA director after a decade of fractious and frayed relationships among the district superintendents and the county office of education in the area of special education,” Nemko said. “He quickly established a culture of trust and respect, allowing SELPA business to be conducted in a professional and efficient manner.”
He quickly won the admiration of the entire SELPA Board with his extensive knowledge of special education law and his stature among special education directors throughout the state, she said.
Nemko added that Yip is not afraid to take a stand and fight for what he believes in, even if it means challenging the assumptions of a highly vocal community.
Building a culture of trust and respect is a theme that has run throughout Yip’s educational career. He said it started when he entered his first classroom. At the high school where he was principal there were three gangs on campus. Yet due to the positive culture that was established, he said, “I can count on one hand the number of altercations we had.”
“We established a Monday morning Leadership breakfast, where the leaders of each group and anyone else who was interested had breakfast and talked about what happened over the weekend and how we could keep our campus safe for all,” he said. This belief in respect and trust has endured throughout Yip’s tenure in education.
Yip came into school leadership in an unusual way.
“The principal of the school where I was a teacher/counselor was involved in an airplane accident,” he said. “It was Labor Day weekend and the executive secretary tracked me down and asked that I attend a closed session with the board, where they appointed me principal of the site. I have served as principal, executive director, assistant superintendent and interim superintendent from that day forward.”
Yip said when he was appointed principal, the first two things the superintendent told him to do were enroll in an administrative credential program and join ACSA.
“I did both,” he said. “ACSA has been my guiding post from the beginning of my administrative career. I have been able to establish a fantastic network of colleagues statewide who I can count on when I need support or ideas to better meet the needs of students.”
A long-standing ACSA member, Yip has served in numerous charter and region leadership positions, including vice chair for legislative action, chair of Student Services and Special Education committees for Regions 3 and 4, and on statewide committees for various professional development events. He is now serving his third term on the state ACSA Student Services and Special Education Council.
Yip found out he received the statewide Administrator of the Year award from ACSA’s Executive Director Wesley Smith, while they were at a Region 4 March Madness event. Yip said he was so shocked he didn’t even believe it was true.
“I am happy, but I know there are others – many others – who are more deserving,” he said. “It truly is a great honor.”