Hi! I'm Callie Oettinger. Founder and editor of Special Education Action. Mother of two. Wife of 25+ years. Daughter, sister, and friend. Army Brat. Reader. Writer. Believer in action, change, and walking the talk. Books, skiing, and family are my happy places.
Longer version: I'm an Army Brat who grew up in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; Fort Ord, California; Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Heidelberg, Germany; and who landed at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, where I obtained a B.F.A. in creative writing.
Yada, yada, yada. I got married, moved to Virginia, launched a company, had kids, spent 20+ years helping bestselling authors and journalists, publishing houses, award-winning indie and documentary filmmakers, and other entrepreneurs and business leaders create what mattered to them and connect their creations with what mattered to their audiences—to include propelling their projects to bestselling and/or award-winning status, featured by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Howard Stern.
Along the way, I saw J.M. struggle to obtain services from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) for her son who struggled with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Dysgraphia. For years, I listened to her talk and cry as we ran (and often walked) laps around Burke Lake, training for the annual Army 10 miler. During those laps, she schooled me on special education.
And then Dyslexia and other surprises entered my home—and I realized special education was a foreign language, that the years of listening to J.M.'s experiences were more tip of the iceberg than master class. I made it a few pages into J.M.'s copy of Pete and Pam Wright's Wrightslaw before giving up and spending a lot of time crying. Nothing made sense. How could one of the largest and most well-funded school districts in the U.S. refuse to help children in need?
And then one day things started clicking, Wrightslaw became my constant companion, and I realized I knew more about special education law than the educators at the IEP meetings. Unfortunately, that knowledge came too late to fully address the Dyslexia and other surprises that FCPS refused to address for so long. When those surprises introduced themselves to my family over a decade ago, I wish I'd had then the knowledge I have now.
I can't change the past, but I hope that some of what I learned might help other families, educators, and students change the future for children who have special education needs—whether it is learning to write IEP goals or state complaints, filing Office for Civil Rights complaints or Freedom of Information Act requests, or simply learning enough about special education rights to ensure decisions made are in the best interest of students.
In 2020, I deep sixed the company I launched in 2002 and pivoted 20+ years of researching, writing, editing, and community outreach toward special education. The Special Education Action site launched the same year and Special Education Action obtained 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit publisher in 2022.
Random Info: If you're reading this page on something larger than a mobile phone, you'll see a picture of a woman staring up at the ski slope she just came flying down.
The woman isn't me—and I made up the bit about the ski slope.
The picture came with the Icelander theme on which this site is built. It's kind of like those beautiful pictures that come with frames (none of which ever exude anything other than joy, happiness, beautiful people in a beautiful world, blah, blah, blah).
Instead of swapping it out with a pic of me, I decided to imagine it is me, looking up into the mountains, head and lungs clear, happy.
As an Army Brat in Germany (and as the daughter of a New Englander), I grew up skiing. It's that one thing I can do that clears my mind — and I passed that love to my kids.
But . . . Virginia special education drama came along and I feared retaliation if we took the kids out of school (good snow on the East Coast never coincides with winter break) for a bit of happiness. In hindsight, we should have kept skiing and made family memories.
This image reminds me to keep working on getting back to a version of me prior to Virginia's drama — and to block individuals trying to steal my family's happiness or rent space in my head for their drama. I let that happen for too long and, as one parent to whomever is reading this, I hope you'll keep your head open for memories and happiness and toss any toxic squatters setting up camp in your vicinity.