LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Terri Douglas

Position: Principal
School: Brehm Preparatory School
School District: Brehm Preparatory School
City, State: Carbondale, IL

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Terri Douglas was nominated by the head of her school, Jeremy Robbins.

Mrs. Douglas is an absolute LifeChanger, not only for the students at Brehm, but for their families and staff. Brehm is a holistic boarding school for students with learning disabilities and differences focusing on four main areas of growth: cognitive and academic, functional life skills, positive behavioral integration, and emotional intelligence. Known for advancing students with learning challenges where other resources have failed, Brehm’s industry-leading expertise and unique holistic approach have resulted in a stellar history of successful outcomes that set the school apart. As an original faculty member, Mrs. Douglas has played an integral part in writing Brehm’s story – a story of rejuvenated hope, awakened potential, confidence, and acceptance.

Mrs. Douglas is a teacher at her core, though you’ll see her wear many hats – school administrator, life coach, cheerleader, friend, and home-away-from-home mom. She wears them all with compassion, dedication, knowledge, work ethic, leadership, and a tireless pursuit of positive outcomes for students and their families. She understands each student's learning profile and personality, and she has the expertise to create individualized learning programs to support their success.

Mrs. Douglas is uniquely brilliant at designing an educational program for each student that reignites a lost passion for learning. Her very being emanates the ideals, skills, and care associated with guiding others to become better versions of themselves. She strives for understanding, whether it's a fellow administrator, a teaching colleague, a student, or a parent. She utilizes all methods for reaching her audience where they are, whether she’s leading a staff meeting, speaking to a group of students as their principal, helping a parent to understand their child's needs, or guiding an individual student to cope in a difficult situation. Mrs. Douglas has made a difference to everyone

Mrs. Douglas works hard, and she guides her staff to commit to what they're doing with the same voracity. She'll tell the truth in a compassionate way, even when it's hard for others to hear, and she makes recommendations based on what's best for the students. She is transparent about her limitations and presents herself with humility. Mrs. Douglas works in good faith, without cynicism, and is indefatigable in her determination to do right by the community. To her, the integrity of Brehm's program is not lip service or a marketing phrase. It's a genuine standard which she holds in the highest regard.

Mrs. Douglas is dedicated to every student's learning. She participates in the admissions process and meets with new students and families. She reviews the profiles and knows when her school's program will not serve the student. Mrs. Douglas voices her opinion and lets the admissions department know if they can serve a student. She doesn't jeopardize a student's chance to succeed when she knows Brehm is not the right place for them.

Mrs. Douglas' sagacity compels her staff to consider the whole student and possible contributing factors that might not be immediately apparent. She constantly reminds her staff that every student wants to succeed, no matter how loudly their behavior and performance might scream otherwise. Her staff's task is to help students uncover just how to do that. Mrs. Douglas is always there to support and cheer her team on in the process.

“We were privileged to have a bright young woman among our students last school year. She tended to debate expectations and engage others in circular 'Yes, but...'-like arguments in response to given directions," said a staff member. "When I had reached the apex of my patience with her one day, I had marched into Terri's office, feeling frustrated and utterly defeated, for guidance. I had expected her to remind me that I was the professional and that I should find a way to scaffold and meet the student where she was; or, effectively, suck it up! Instead, Terri affirmed the validity of my feelings and offered to show me a strategy to try with the student. Wasting little time after that, she convened the three of us together and demonstrated the strategy for me. I watched her take our student from teetering on the edge of a screaming fit to slowly, but assuredly, birthing a dynamic of open, mature discussion that resulted not only in her meeting the expectation that caused the impasse in the first place, but, more importantly, being able to reflect, label, and reconstruct the situation as it had occurred with Terri's gentle, but firm guidance. It was truly awe-inspiring.”

Many leaders are successful when the going is easy but fall short when the going gets tough, like during the COVID-19 pandemic. When things are tough, Mrs. Douglas attacks the problem with well-thought solutions using accurate data, research, creative effort, and group cooperation. She was instrumental in designing a plan to make sure Brehm met its mission and students continued to learn as individuals, not just an IP address, as they transitioned and adjusted to remote learning, a task that is daunting and unimaginable to many students with learning disabilities and their families. She made sure teachers continued to teach with the added caveat that Maslow comes before Bloom, meaning students’ psychological, safety, belonging and self-actualization needs must be addressed before learning can occur.

Mrs. Douglas is quick to assess whatever situation her school is in and create and adapt within whatever parameters her staff have been dealt. The pandemic has been no different. She has spearheaded the research and creation of new delivery models to reach students, no matter what mode of instruction COVID requires. She has used input from individuals directly affected by those decisions and has been a constant source of understanding and flexibility while still maintaining high expectations for staff. Mrs. Douglas' expertise in system design and understanding of our students, as well as the reality of the pandemic in spring 2020, led to a very workable remote schedule for all concerned - teachers, parents, and students. Within eight days of lockdown, Brehm was up and running with a compassionate plan that made sense. As fall approached and Mrs. Douglas prepared for a blended in-person return to school, Illinois experienced a surge in positive cases. Mrs. Douglas quickly tossed her Stage 2 COVID safety plan. She has developed another class delivery design that respects the needs of students and staff and follows best practices for limiting COVID transmission. In response to several families that were reluctant to send their child back to school due to COVID-19, Mrs. Douglas developed a model of instruction that includes both in-person and synchronous online learning.

“In helping Terri design various systems, plans, curricula, and written materials, it always became a joyful endeavor, it was never 'just work,'" said a staff member. "We would freely brainstorm and 'blurt' ideas - as she would say - bouncing thoughts off each other, giving frank feedback, and delighting in creating something of value for our community. For Terri, there is no box. There are only creative possibilities and always solutions to be found."

"She has been an amazing leader and role model during this difficult time," said Robbins.



Comments (18)


Kathleen Barnes Posted 26 days ago

My daughter Molly enrolled in Brehm as an 8th grader and graduated in 2020. As I left my first parent conference I realized this was the first time Molly’s instruction was addressing her needs. I left the parent conference feeling optimistic about her future, instead of in tears. Her previous school’s IEPs looked like they addressed her needs, but it never really felt Molly was getting the help she needed. At Brehm, someone actually “saw” my daughter and structured her learning in ways that addressed her strengths and deficiencies. Terri was the architect of these plans. Terri's amazing depth of knowledge and her understanding of a wide variety of learning differences allows her to creates strategies that help each student. She helped my daughter with academic, behavioral, and emotional challenges. She inspires the faculty and staff to create a unique learning environment of respect and responsibility. I taught high school for 35 years in 10 different schools in 4 states and have worked with many, many administrators. Terri Douglas is exceptional. She truly changed our lives for the better.

Stacy Tate Posted 2 months ago

Words cannot even begin to explain the impact Terri has on all who know her. Her heart for education and students of all ages is so big! It’s an honor to get to work alongside her!

Eden Atwood Posted 2 months ago

I will never forget having a meeting at school last year with my son's team that ended at 9am. I was having lots of feelings and concerns about my son and Terri stayed behind and listened to me and talked to me and really helped me feel much more supported and like my son was in good hands. I was aware that she probably had many other things to attend to and thanked her for being so generous with her time. I thought it was so great that she spent that extra hour with me except when i looked at the clock as I was leaving it was NOON! Terri sat with me for an hour with the team and then THREE MORE HOURS and never once made any attempt to end our meeting. I was blown away. Utterly blown away.

Floy Daugherty Posted 2 months ago

I am inspired by the comments made so far and they accurately reflect so much of how Terri dealt with each person. She was available, patient with some of us who needed time to process the entire story. She was realistic and highlighted what we could hear and kept us coming back for the rest of her thoughts. I saw her from a parent perspective as a leader for our staff and our children. I saw her from a Board member parent representative’s perspective. She is flexible, thoughtful, able to step back for the full picture. Yes, a life changer in so many ways and I am privileged to have experienced and seen that experience.

Beth Ritter Crutsinger Posted 2 months ago

Terri always gave me great comfort while my son (Matt Evans) was a student at Brehm. I knew Matt was looked after both academically and personally. Mrs. Douglas made Matt feel special and always made him feel comfortable talking to her if he had a problem. She was encouraging and helpful in inspiring him to do his best. Even after he left Brehm. Mrs. Douglas reached out to me several times to see how Matt was doing. She always had the right words of encouragement for both Matt and myself and her smile and bubbly personality are infectious! She is most deserved of the Life Changer of the Year Award!!

Jay D. Bales Posted 2 months ago

Have you ever worked with someone who made a simple, yet keen, observation that went almost unnoticed at the time but turned out to be prophetic later on when you more fully understood the entire situation at hand? Such was our experience with Terri Douglas. She knew the correct answer before anyone else had even formulated the proper question. Our son is very bright but had behavior issues his entire life including his time at Brehm. Terri very calmly said to me one day “He needs Wilderness Therapy”. I didn’t even know what Wilderness Therapy was when she told me this!! For nearly 18 years no one could figure out why our son acted the way he did. And, it was not for lack of trying to understand. Trust me, we spent nearly 18 years and invested a considerable amount of money to get to the bottom of the issue. And, it was Wilderness Therapy that FINALLY brought the issue to the surface. We learned our son had abandonment, trust, and relationship issues due to being adopted. He just couldn’t understand why his Mom “gave him away” and that was at the root of his acting out. Neither he, nor his mother and I ever knew it at the time however. We struggled a LOT until we were able to identify the real issue. Wilderness Therapy forced him to turn off the electronics and turn down the noise in his head and face – and begin to resolve - the issues in his life for the first time. It was this pivotal discovery that allowed us to begin the road to recovery. Terri played a key role in us not losing our son forever. When Brehm says it changes people’s lives this is not just a witty marketing slogan. It is the truth. Terri was literally a life saver for our son even though he may not even recognize yet. But that’s ok. We do. And, our son is on the road to recovery. We are very grateful. I can think of few more deserving of an award which recognizes someone’s ability to positively change other’s people’s lives. We are honored and delighted to support Terri’s nomination for this award. She has certainly earned it. Jay D. Bales Father of Michael Bales 2017 Brehm Graduate

Charleen Walsh Posted 3 months ago

I was delighted to learn Terri Douglas has been nominated for the Life Changer of the Year Award. Each individual on this small campus is professional and caring. Many have retired over the thirty years of strategic planning, parent weekends and graduations that I have attended. Terri continues to change lives empowering each to be their best utilizing technology, psychology, health and management insights. Legacy begins one year at a time and is enhanced with continuity. When I have experienced the excitement and joy of students as they've grown, my decision to value her as teacher and leader is confirmed.

David Gibbs Posted 3 months ago

As a former member of Brehm's Board and proud parent of a now-former student whose life has been profoundly blessed by Brehm and OPTIONS, I wholeheartedly support Terri's nomination for LifeChanger of the Year. I'm grateful to have worked with her during my years on the Board and deeply appreciate her many contributions to our students, their families, our faculty, staff and administration.

PRISCILLA J SELF Posted 3 months ago

My grandson is in his Senior year at Brehm Preparatory School. He began there during the first semester of 8th grade. Terri Douglas has certainly been a life changer for him. During his elementary public school education, he had several IEPs that were not followed and he barely passed 7th grade. Each year in public school he had so many detentions that he never got to go on any of the school field trips - had to stay behind in a school room while others enjoyed the outings. His write ups were for things like; not sitting still in class, forgetting his home work assignments at school; doing his homework at home and forgetting to bring it back to school, shoving another student that was constantly bullying him, etc. At Brehm, Mrs. Douglas designed a course and study plan for him and followed up with his progress. My grandson was able to communicate well with Terri and go to her with problems or for advise. At the end of his 8th grade at Brehm, he graduated with honors. He continued to excel at Brehm during his high school years and is now looking forward to attending college in the Fall. I am so thankful to Terri for helping my grandson through this formative time in his life.

Trish Ranallo Posted 3 months ago

My son attends Brehm Preparatory School, where Terri Douglas has been his Principal and taught him in Literary Analysis Class. Her passion for the kids and teaching is beyond any Administrative and teacher I have ever encountered. She was the first person who said we do not focus on weaknesses or where a child struggles. We focus on his/her strengths and build on them so the child will succeed. No one has ever looked at my son's strengths before. Schools did what they knew best, which was to point out his struggles. As a parent of a child with learning differences, this is very heartbreaking, and you feel like you will never be able to help your child. Terri has lifted the stress and helped Vince and his family see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. She is patient and figured out how to work with my son. This past year, we have been doing school remotely because of the pandemic. I have seen firsthand how she interacts with students. Remote Learning is hard, but Terri has figured out how to keep the students engaged and learning. I honestly could write a book about how Terri Douglas has changed our life. She is one in a million.

Val Posted 3 months ago

Our daughter is new to Brehm this year; but in the short time we have known Terri, we have been impressed with her leadership and strength during the Covid pandemic, her staged plan that enabled students to not only attend but also stay in school this fall, her willingness to help wherever needed (Terri was often helping in the dorms during the initial quarantine), and her complete desire to understand each student at Brehm. Even our first meeting with Terri imbued us with hope for our daughter’s future, and that is a life-changing gift.

Trish Ranallo Posted 3 months ago

My son attends Brehm Preparatory School, where Terri Douglas has been his Principal and taught him in Literary Analysis Class. Her passion for the kids and teaching is beyond any Administrative and teacher I have ever encountered. She was the first person who said we do not focus on weaknesses or where a child struggles. We focus on his/her strengths and build on them so the child will succeed. No one has ever looked at my son's strengths before. Schools did what they knew best, which was to point out his struggles. As a parent of a child with learning differences, this is very heartbreaking, and you feel like you will never be able to help your child. Terri has lifted the stress and helped Vince and his family see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. She is patient and figured out how to work with my son. This past year, we have been doing school remotely because of the pandemic. I have seen firsthand how she interacts with students. Remote Learning is hard, but Terri has figured out how to keep the students engaged and learning. I honestly could write a book about how Terri Douglas has changed our life. She is one in a million.

Amy Posted 3 months ago

Where do I start...this women taught me so much during my time at Brehm. She was fierce and bold in the way she lead. She lead while constantly teaching the reasons why we did what we did...the students. The students were always her priority. During the day she was their educator, by night she was their biggest fans. She gave ?? to each and every student, in the way that each student needed her the most. She gave guidance to all staff, not just her staff.. When I think of what a Lifechanger is....I can see soooo many times that she did just that. She was the structure they needed, the motivator that helped them reach their goals. She is what we all strive to be when working with learning differences. Life-changing. This award couldn't go to a more deserving person.

Trish Ranallo Posted 3 months ago

My son attends Brehm Preparatory School, where Terri Douglas has been his Principal and taught him in Literary Analysis Class. Her passion for the kids and teaching is beyond any Administrative and teacher I have ever encountered. She was the first person who said we do not focus on weaknesses or where a child struggles. We focus on his/her strengths and build on them so the child will succeed. No one has ever looked at my son's strengths before. Schools did what they knew best, which was to point out his struggles. As a parent of a child with learning differences, this is very heartbreaking, and you feel like you will never be able to help your child. Terri has lifted the stress and helped Vince and his family see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. She is patient and figured out how to work with my son. This past year, we have been doing school remotely because of the pandemic. I have seen firsthand how she interacts with students. Remote Learning is hard, but Terri has figured out how to keep the students engaged and learning. I honestly could write a book about how Terri Douglas has changed our life. She is one in a million.

Erin Camfield Posted 3 months ago

Terri is truly an asset to our students, families, teachers, and school as a whole. She has always gone above and beyond to ensure everything runs as smoothly as it can and that our students' needs are being met. When the pandemic hit, Terri took it upon herself to develop a plan to return our students safely to program as in-person education is vital for students with learning disabilities. And of course, with Terri being Terri, did not want any recognition for solely developing this plan, which has been recognized by other schools, leaders, and state education offices. Terri always puts the needs of the teachers before her own. Often taking on extra work so that she is not asking the teachers that are already overworked to take on more. Terri has stepped in to teach classes, monitor online learning labs, and so much more on top of her daily duties. While I'm not privy to know the number of hours this woman dedicates on a weekly basis, I do know that is much more than 40 hours. Terri has often stepped into various roles for the betterment of our organization, and then graciously stepped away when the board decided differently. She has been a true rock for our program in all aspects, every day! I have had the pleasure of working with Terri for seven years. She is an inspiring leader and an individual. She is encouraging to others, provides you with a straightforward understanding of information. She is the person that everyone in the organization turns to. She is the true definition of a life changer!

Shelby Pals Posted 4 months ago

I worked for Terri for six years. She gave me my first "real" job out of college. She gave me a place to not only learn to teach children, but a safe environment to grow myself. I have never learned more about myself and others than I did when I was working for Terri at Brehm. She was a great leader who always listened and encouraged. She let me have plenty of freedom for creativity and expression in the classroom. She not only sees potential in students but also her co-workers. I am also a member of her family. She is the most wonderful grandmother to my children. She is a mother-in-law that I don't run from and thoroughly enjoy spending time with. I love to listen to her ideas because they are so vastly different from mine. She is extremely creative and thoughtful. She is a role model to me as a mother figure. She raised my husband who is not only my best friend but one of the most patient, loving, talented people I've ever known. It takes one heck of a person to raise boys into such incredible men. She deserves the world, but would never ask for it.

Jeffrey Clough Posted 4 months ago

One of the Hardest workers I know personally. Nobody I can think of deserves this honor more than her, love her to the moon and back. She has helped mold many lives and deserves the credit due for her tireless dedication to her craft. She has not only done this for a year but a lifetime.

Summer Clough Posted 4 months ago

Terri is an amazing human being! She has been a second mother to me for 17 years. I don’t know who I would be today if it weren’t for her unending patience, love & guidance. Knowing her is a blessing.