By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen
AUTISM ACADEMY – Meet Jenny Durant, the Operations Director at Autism Academy, a school that provides an education for children with autism.
Jenny Durant was 18-years-old when she started making decisions that would impact others. 26 year later, as a wife, mother, and now operations director at the Autism Academy her methods have proven successful.
The specialty school takes pride in employing about 100 professional educators that work together under an invisible “kids first” banner. Before the school opened, Durant’s decisions played a key role in helping to produce a proficient and peaceful work environment.
Her unexpected journey as a mom awarded her the experience needed to make the kind of decisions parents respect, students embrace, and teachers value. An unplanned pregnancy caused her to make some rapid choices at age 18. Durant said, “I had to quit living life like there was no tomorrow.”
She married her high school sweetheart, Chuck Durant and started planning for their family. “I could no longer just be care-free,” Durant said. “This was a huge wake-up call for me.”
As a homemaker, she maneuvered the maze of household responsibilities, raising children, school volunteerism, church involvement, and being a wife. She bypassed the traditional college experience.
Instead, Durant discovered new friendships with older church congregants that provided priceless wisdom used to nourish a wholesome family and lasting marriage. In 2002, Durant decided to enter the workforce – as if raising four children wasn’t enough.
“I was able to stay home when my kids were younger, but as they got older I started thinking about what I wanted to do,” she said. “Initially, I worked in retail.” It wasn’t long before she negotiated an administrative assistant position at her son’s school. While working at Leading Edge Academy, Durant met 6th-grade teacher Laura Newcomb.
Newcomb possessed a passionate interest in helping unique learners, which launched her from the classroom to the director of special education. When Newcomb landed her first principal position at a nearby location, Durant packed her desk supplies and assumed duties as Newcomb’s dedicated assistant. It doesn’t stop there, by 2005, they were an inseparable cohort.
“That’s when Laura (Newcomb) started Exceptional Academic Services,” Durant said. “The new business contracted special education services to charter schools.”
In 2013, Newcomb launched the Autism Academy, a school for children with autism.
Durant contributed decisions that helped make the specialty school the fastest growing in the region, working as the Operations Director. Her new responsibilities now include making administrative decisions, payroll, prioritizing expense accounts, and supervising the entire operations aspect of three Autism Academy locations. “Most importantly, we want this to be a positive place to learn and work,” Durant said. “Considering the challenges our teachers already deal with, it’s important that they have the necessary resources in the classroom.”
Smiling staff, children with autism learning in comfortably contained classrooms, and a professional work environment defines how each site operates at a glance.
“It’s always been ‘kids first’ since I’ve worked with Laura (Newcomb),” said Durant. “So, it trickles down.”
According to Durant, parents are the strongest advocate for their children. With one college graduate, and three college students, the proud mom of four is embracing her purpose of helping others make decisions best suitable for keeping kids first.
If you want to give your child with autism the best education and support, enroll them in the Autism Academy. Your child will enhance their social skills, education, and ready them for his or her future.