Staff Spotlight: Michelle Olsen, Director of Special Education

In 2002, Options became one of the first charter schools in Indiana. Our Director of Special Education, Michelle Olsen, has been with Options since the beginning ‒ and we sat down with her to hear her story.

What is your education background & history?

I graduated in the late 1990s from Ball State University in Special Education. After college, I took a position at IPS for 3 years. After that, I went to Noblesville School and taught there for four years in a self-contained classroom. After resigning from Noblesville, I took a position at Options.

What was it like transitioning from your previous jobs to Options?

I really enjoyed IPS and working with an at-risk population. I enjoyed being a self-contained teacher at Noblesville but it was a lonely position. It was hard to build relationships there.

I knew right off the bat that Options was where I needed to be. I didn’t know a lot about charter schools at the time. I loved the whole mission, the kids, and getting back to building relationships. The mission of Options is why I have continued to stay.

What was your first title at Options? What was it like when you first started?

In the beginning, the old building on Gradle Drive was terrible. There were no walls.

When we moved into the Carmel building, where I was a Special Education Teacher for five years, it was beautiful compared to where we were originally at.

When we opened in Noblesville in 2006, I was still a teacher, and we had a virtual special education co-op program through Ball State University at the time. Noblesville and Carmel are very different environments with different students, so making sure Noblesville met the mission of Options was a challenge at first, but we succeeded.

After the special education co-op with Ball State ended, the position of special education coordinator opened up. I had my Master’s in Special Education at the time, so I transitioned into that role, which is now called Director of Special Education.

Michelle and KevinMichelle with Options Co-Founder, Kevin Davis, in the early days of Options in the 2000’s.

What has it been like being a part of Options’ evolution?

Everything has changed over the years. The growth of the school itself is unbelievable. I never thought in a million years we’d go virtual. We’ve done a great job at meeting our mission in a virtual world.

There were only three of us in our original admin meetings in this central office ‒ and it’s so different today. Every day I spend a lot of time with Options Indiana special ed staff because they’re all over the place. We have a tight connection, even though we’ve never met face to face. I talk to them every day. I’ve built a really good working relationship and friendship with the woman I work directly with.

I think charter schools still have a negative name but in this county, with the co-op and HBM, people know who we are. That connection with the co-op is something I would never want to lose. They are like our right arm. If I ever have issues or questions and advice, I go to them.

Seeing where we were 20 years ago compared to now, truly makes me wonder where we’ll be in 20 years and how big Options will get.

How has your role & the learning environment changed?

When I started, I was in my late 20’s with babies. We had 130 students at Carmel when I started, and they came to school every day. With kids back in those early days, we didn’t have many restrictions. Parents were really tired at that point. We were so new. We always had a waiting list. Parents kind of handed kids over to us, and we did our job.

Things have changed, rightfully so. We have to be more aware of what we say or do with our students, and I think that’s a good thing. I have to make sure, on the legal end, that my leaders, staff, and teachers understand the legal parameters of working with children with disabilities. We have to be careful with how we interact with them.

What has it been like to work with former students and to see your students grow up?

We’re seeing the next generation coming through the door, which is fun.

The other day I was in Carmel and saw a student who looked like a former student of mine when I started. It turned out to be her child. I told her, “You look just like a student I had, and she responded, ‘Oh it was probably my mom.’”

I had a student who couldn’t read when I started Options. I learned a program called Tucker Sign, and he was reading for the first time. He came to visit me five years ago and thanked me. It’s stuff like that that comes around full circle…

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy spending time with my family. COVID made me appreciate family time more.

I love summer. I love lounging in pools. I enjoy traveling even though I don’t get to do it that often.

I’m also getting ready to become an empty-nester. My children are growing up: One just finished college and the other just finished their freshman year of college. My husband and I have been married for 23 years so we’re ready and excited to have more space and watch our kids fly the coop.

michelle and her familyMichelle with her family.

A Caring Community. Quality Education.

The mission of Options is why I have continued to stay… Seeing where we were 20 years ago compared to now, truly makes me wonder where we’ll be in 20 years and how big Options will get.

‒ Michelle Olsen, Director of Special Education

At Options, our mission is to provide a caring community, quality education, and guidance to students seeking an alternative to traditional schooling. If you’re interested in learning more about us, contact us today or stay tuned to our blogs for more information!