Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Peers and experts offer resources for working with students in special education

On Friday, June 18, the day after school ended, we offered sessions for teachers, administrators, principals and other PPS staffers interested in learning more about working with students in special education.  Driving the need for this half-day “Summer Institute” is the reorganization of our focus-continuum classrooms. (See for details.)

As a result of this reorganization, 17 K-8 schools will see increased enrollment of students receiving services through the Integrated Student Support department, which is an integration of the special education and student services departments of PPS.  Summer Institute is one of the ways in which ISS is providing added support so that educators can become better equipped.

I planned to attend this event, however, at the last minute I was called upon to participate in work related to budget-cutting.  I’ve received a lot of feedback from people who went. Virtually all of the feedback has been positive.  We’ve heard from a number of principals seeking to implement a method called collaborative problem-solving (CPS) that they learned about at the Summer Institute. CPS is a style of interpersonal communication that enables educators and students to achieve success. See below for details and stay tuned for an upcoming post that will go into more detail about how CPS is being used within PPS.
The event opened with a message from Steve Hanamura , a Portland-based consultant who helps people within organizations embrace diversity.  Steve tells stories about his life to convey his message. For example, when Steve was 4- and a-half-years-old, his parents sent him away from their home in L.A. to Berkley so he could attend a state school for the blind. He said when he became an adult and entered the work world, he was “tolerated.”

“People put up with me but they really wished I would go away. That’s what ‘tolerance’ is. Children know when they are being put up with,” Steve said in his keynote address.
Instead, diversity should be celebrated, Steve said. 

He offered educators advice on how to succeed when they return to school this fall and meet students in the focused continuum classrooms.  “There needs to be a dialogue with parents and students in the focused continuum and also with everybody in general education,” he said.

Starting that dialogue is as simple as asking a student what a person needs to know when they work with him or her.  “You could come up to me and say, ‘Steve, I’ve never worked with a blind person before, what should I know about working with you?’”

Steve told the audience that they have a responsibility to teach students without disabilities what it means to have disability and to show how to treat a student with disability.

Steve’s additional tips include:

  • Say “hello” to a disabled person. 
  • Confer with people who are experienced in working with students with disabilities
  • Embrace, also known as “admitting,” your own fears and concerns about working with this population.  It’s alright as long as you don’t put down or belittle anyone. 
  • Focus on what you have in common. 
Breakout sessions followed Steve’s talk.  Below is a list of the sessions.  In some instances, additional information is available and is included. 

Schools with Communication Behavior Classrooms
Tamra Haas and Brad Hendershott
Columbia Regional Program
Tamra’s and Brad’s presentation included videos on autism and explained what autism is. They said a cornerstone of autism is a social/communication deficit.  It is severe qualitative impairment in reciprocal interaction (i.e., someone diagnosed on the autism spectrum doesn’t have intuitive ability to socialize).
Click Here to see the presentation

Schools with Behavior Classrooms
By Laraine Adams, Program Administrator; Jeremy Geschwind, TOSA; Kali Wahl, QMHP; and Stephanie Delano, QMHP
Facilitators shared composite examples of students and the ways in which the as educators have learned to interact with students.
Click Here for presentation 

Collaborative Problem-Solving/Positive Behavior Supports (Also known as “Students Do Well If They Can”)
By Ed Keating, MSAW, LCSW and Erik Kola, RN
Ed and Erik gave a presentation on this interpersonal communication technique. They suggested a website called

Collaborative Problem-Solving is a method pioneered by Dr. Ross Greene and J. Stuart Ablon, Ph.D. CPS teaches that challenging children are not that way because they intend to be difficult or different.  Instead, CPS offers an approach for interpersonal communication that that allows success for interacting with children otherwise seen as “difficult.”

The State of Oregon is among pioneers who are implementing CPS. Portland Public Schools in recent years has started to employ CPS. Stay tuned for additional information on how that is happening within the ISS department.

Ed provided a reading list:
1.    Lost at School, by Ross Greene
2.    The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene
3.    Treating Explosive Kids, by Ross Green and J. Stuart Ablon
4.    Born for Love, by Bruce Perry

He suggested these websites:

Visual supports that can serve all students. This was available in printed form. Teresa Roberts, a Speech-Language Pathologist for PPS, presented it this spring.
Click here for "Picture Perfect"

Thank you to everyone who attended.  Please let your colleagues know about this blog and the resources available here.  The ISS department in coming months will do additional trainings like this one.  Feel free to ask questions or to leave a comment here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dear Stakeholders, stay tuned this summer & look forward to action team work

An open letter I wrote to Stakeholders:

June 15, 2010:

Dear Stakeholders:
I would like to begin by acknowledging each of you for your hard work and dedication to this department improvement process. During the summer, our leadership team will take the opportunity to analyze and discuss the recommendations from the final report and those presented at our last meeting. During our review we will also consider how best to align the first-year suggested priorities with other department priorities and the school district's vision.

Additionally, I will be contacting community and district partners to ensure this effort has sufficiently broad participation and representation of internal and external constituencies who may be directly impacted by changes or who are in a position to support a successful change process. It is essential that each action team is well balanced with a range of individuals with varying backgrounds.

We will continue posting updates, adding resource information, as well as a calendar of events on the website to keep you informed about the process. In the late summer/early fall, we expect to kick off the action team work process with a meeting outlining the purpose and scope of work in which teams will be engaged.

Thank you for your continued interest in this project. We look forward to ongoing communication with you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reorganizing focused programs brings stability, a curriculum continuum

I was a guest speaker at the May 18 meeting of Special Education PTA of Portland, SEPTAP.  Like I said on this blog following my first visit to SEPTAP last December, it was a privilege for me to be invited to speak at the forum provided by this group.  Roughly 50 parents turned out for this meeting.  Several of my Integrated Student Support team program members also attended. 

We talked about the reorganization and renaming of self contained programs. The new terminology is “Focus continuum programs/teams.”  The change is a result of a multi-year program review.  The ISS program review began as an audit of our budget and grew into a complete look at how the entire program serves students.  The review included all stakeholders—parents, students, educators, community partners, and administrators. The process also involved gathering an extensive amount of data, anecdotal information and ideas on how to improve the program.   The goal is to improve service to students. Read a blog post about the program review by clicking here and get a nuts and bolts perspective of it by visiting this website.

The changes we talked about at the meeting spurred many questions.  We spent approximately an hour taking questions from audience members, who posed many thoughtful questions.  I’ll start by relaying the main points of what I attempted to convey at the meeting.  Questions from parents, along with our responses, will follow.

Focused programs replace “self-contained” classrooms

Self-contained programs (now called Focused Programs) serve approximately six percent, or 496, of students within the ISS program (formerly known as “special education”).  These programs have been located randomly throughout the district, housed in whichever building had capacity when a need for a new program arose.  This has resulted in a district-wide situation where a continuum of curriculum is not present within each school. It means that any given school may not be able to serve its students throughout his or her education.  For instance, it means a school that serves general education students from kindergarten through fifth grade may not be able to serve students in a focused program throughout those grade levels. The school may have only have focused programs for K through 3rd grade. For fourth and fifth, students may have to switch to another school.  I told the story through the eyes of a young student in a previous blog post.

The fact that many students in the focused programs have had to switch schools three, four and even five times in their first six years of school is counter-productive.  To remedy this, Portland Public Schools next fall will implement a plan to reorganize K-8 focused programs. This reorganization is happening after an extensive, inclusive and careful review of the ISS program.  Last month, we sent a letter explaining this to parents of students who will be in this type of program next school year.

Reorganizing our focused programs brings much-needed stability for students and families. Changes in school locations are reduced as students move through grade levels.  The focus of programs is more carefully designed to ensure a full range of services that includes appropriate curriculum.  Program descriptions, entry and exit guidelines, and locations are more transparent to our families and staff who need information to make good decisions.

A district-wide inventory of curriculum used in K-8 focused programs is underway.  The inventory will identify gaps between available curriculum and student needs.  The next step will be to purchase curriculum in areas where we find gaps.

Another important aspect of this reorganization is that students will be aligned with their comprehensive high school area.

Renaming focused programs brings appropriate, descriptive label
Renaming the focused program with a more accurate label will do a better job of conveying how these programs function.  Going forward, what we used to call self-contained will be known as Focused Program or Focused Team.      

This label is appropriate because the programs are focused in a number of ways.  For instance, the teams of people who support these programs are being structured to deliver expertise aligned with the specific needs of students assigned to their rooms.  This has not been possible previously because under the self contained model, students have been assigned to a classroom regardless of their individual needs.  Students of all abilities and functioning at all levels could be found in one classroom.  It meant that students who are fragile and or have a mental health condition were mixed with those who are externalizing behaviors.  Under the new model, the focus programs also bring much needed focus for students.  The focus team at each school also is charged with supporting general education teachers in a way that will enable them to be more attuned to the needs of their special education students. This will be done through training by the program team, TOSA support, and extensive on-going training in buildings where there is a full time special education coordinator.  Schools that do not have a special education coordinator will receive training from the central ISS office program administrator, TOSA and other professional experts. 

We know these changes mean another painful move for students.  Going forward, however, the reorganization—with district-wide support that starts with our superintendent—will be an improvement for students and those who will follow.  It is for the long-term, greater good of all of our kids.

Click here for a listing of the program descriptions.

Contact us with your questions.  One of the best ways to reach us with questions about the focused program is by calling a hotline set up expressly for this purpose: 503-916-3931.

Question and Answer Session
Q. What was the decision-making process in regard to how students are being assigned to a focus program for the upcoming school year?

A. We organized our focus programs by high schools as much as possible and within clusters.  Several clusters are combined, based on the number of students who need these programs in certain geographical areas. In a few instances, the closest school is not very close to their home.

Q. How will the Learning Centers change? The current staffing model is very painful for the buildings.

A. Some learning centers will experience FTE cuts based on lower student population projections. In July, we’ll know specifics to look at the student numbers again and reallocate staff.  We’ve made a declaration to principals that the learning center and the model used to staff it will be getting attention in an effort to improve it.  This is one of the next areas of focus for ISS.

Q. The number of hours that para educators can work keeps getting cut. How can they do a good job when their day keeps getting shorter?

A. The reality is that in the face of declining budgets, we have to make cuts.  Our first priority is to keep cuts away from services to students.  So we look everywhere else first.  We’ve cut administrators, TOSA’s, positions at the district-level, as well as para hours. The para time has been added back. We’ve also added para educator positions in programs.  Everybody is trying to do the right thing.  It’s hard times.

Q.  Is the ISS department becoming less marginalized with these changes?

A. The ISS department has worked collaboratively on the focus continuum project with the district-wide committee on staffing and space.  We work and collaborate with HR on all union and staffing procedures, policies and issues.  This year we had a special education administrator and a TOSA work in the curriculum and instruction department overseeing the purchase and professional development of special education supplemental curriculum.  We continue to work on strategies to ensure that all students are embraced as their school building community. This means as they enter a focus continuum program and transition to a full-day in general education they can remain at the school through the end of the natural grade level transition. 

Q.  I was part of the stakeholder process for the program review you’ve mentioned tonight.  One of the issues that came up during that process is a desire to keep kids in the self-contained classroom at one school during their elementary career.  Another issue that is very important to stakeholders is to get kids to their neighborhood school.  But the problem is that when a building needs more space students in the self contained classroom are seen as the most expendable because they are not from the surrounding neighborhood.  So kids should be able to stay in their neighborhood schools with a one-on-one para and not go to self-contained classrooms in other parts of the district.

A.  The part that is hard is “Do we have the expertise within general education? Do we have it at the neighborhood schools?”  Currently, no.  We need to do training with our general education teachers. The answer is not a one-on-one para educator following a student from class to class or sitting in a general education classroom with a student all day.  Then para becomes the child’s educator.  But not many para’s have that capability.  We have to build focused expertise within the buildings.  There is no black and white answer to your question.  It is what we are working toward with focus programs.

Q.  How can you assure us that this change with the focused program won’t happen again? Our kids have to change classes next year and who’s to say in another year it won’t be put back the way it was?

A.  This reorganization was a priority recommendation from our special education program review. This reorganization of the focused programs is a significant undertaking.   This reorganization is a thoughtful plan.  There is significant commitment from all stakeholders from all levels of leadership.  This change has district-wide support, including budget support from Superintendent Smith. 

Q.  Why can’t some kids be grandfathered in so that they don’t have to change schools because of this?

A.  The only way to reorganize the focused programs was to have all the students move to their home cluster for 2010-1011.  This balanced the classroom numbers and provides capacity for students who live in a cluster area to be served there. There is a domino effect. 

Q.  This is segregation.  Instead of Integrated Student Support, the program should be called Segregated Student Support.  Students should be able to go to their neighborhood school and be in a class with everyone else.  How can they have separate programs with a separate curriculum?

A.  Integrated Student Support is a department that encompasses the district’s PreK-12 counseling department, health services, special education, mental health services, 504 and district-wide discipline.
Students in the focus programs are not segregated.  We staff at a level so students have access to general education as determined by the IEP team.  The curriculum used in the classrooms is also determined by the IEP team.  It has been selected as appropriate to meet the goals and objectives on the IEP.
Students that need a level of support beyond what can be provided in the general education classroom attend focus programs and have access to the general education setting through this program. The high level of staff expertise in the focus program provides support to the student and to the general education teacher so that the inclusion experience is successful. 

Q.  Are students going to have to change buildings as they emerge to a general education program?

A.  One of the benefits of this change is that a student does not have to change schools when he or she goes to general education. 

Q.  What kind of preparation is happening within the building and for the general education teachers before students arrive at the focus program?

A. An all-day in-service is scheduled for general education at 11 schools that will have the most students in focus programs.  The in-service is scheduled June 18.  In addition, special education coordinators assigned to those 11 schools are charged with providing on-going support.

Q. What about the schools that are not part of that group of 11 schools?  What is being done at those schools?

A.  They will be supported by the special education program administrators and TOSA’s.

Q.  Will there be an opportunity for parents to meet teachers and the other people who will work in the programs?

A.  Welcome tours are being coordinated.   Watch this blog for details.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Feedback from a meeting of our Parent Focus Group

The following is feedback we received from parents during a meeting I led on Feb.17, 2010.

School District System-Wide Issues (not strictly under the purview of special education)
  • A system for accountability is needed.  Nothing seems to be in place around compliance.  No consequences for failing to comply. Example: Accommodations are not provided in general education classrooms.
  • Too many kids are in general education classes
  • Lack of time for collaboration between general education teachers and SpEd teachers.
  • Teachers are not “required” to attend important in-service. Example: some teachers do not understand “behavior as communication.”
  • Teacher expectations of SpEd students; sometimes they are too low!  Both general education and SpEd teachers need to have appropriate expectations.
  • Building accessibility has not been addressed.  Students can’t have lunch with peers because of obstacles such as stairs.  A systemic issue that affects all kids with motor issues.  How many programs (music, library, lunch or other academic classrooms) are inaccessible?
  • Concern:  What’s been done for first-year teachers? An example was shared of a first-year teacher who didn’t have good classroom management skills or knowledge of curriculum.  What’s being done to mentor new teachers and keep veteran teachers?
  • Concern about a lack of a continuum. Third- and fourth-grade students who haven’t learned basic reading and may need more intensive interventions.  Teaching basic skills drops off in grades three and four.  ILC classrooms were effective when student needs a little more than LC.
  • With increased requirements (such as those for algebra and world language), some SpEd students will have increased barriers to the Oregon Diploma.
  • A question about new diplomas: What if you have a student who is half-way through?
  • Special Education issues have not been part of the high school reform discussion.

Special Education Systems Issues
  • Define better what parent “input” means. We need to get our teams working better toward consensus.
  • Branding:  Is there a different name for “self-contained” classrooms? Such as “LC-B” or “Support Center”?
  • Been to five schools – been accused of bouncing.  Child sits “on fence” – high function in some areas – strong needs in others – without standardized curriculum, needs not getting met.

Offerings in Special Education
  • Classroom labels are not self-explanatory.
  • District Rep needs to know right up front about building variables. Example: Putting APE goal on the IEP of a student who is going into a school with no PE.
  • Alternative schools don’t offer all services. Staff sometimes don’t know which services are offered by which schools. And parents need to be able to look up services and their locations.
  • Audio library has been difficult to access when families needed support for a struggling reader
  • Families are forced to choose a life skills classroom or a general education classroom. There is not an option in-between.
  • SLC/A classroom was a perfect fit. But it dropped off the continuum.
  • Been to five schools – been accused of bouncing.  Child sits “on fence” – high function in some areas – strong needs in others. Without standardized curriculum, needs not getting met.

Communication/Conflict Resolution
  • Concerns about lack of willingness to talk about “what kind” of self-contained classroom.  Focus of classroom and location not discussed.
  • Who do you contact when IEP not being implemented? 
  • Frustration about where the services are and what building.  Seems like a secret.  Has to rely on “parent network” to get info.
  • Information is key for parents.  Staff sometimes acts as if hands tied when asked for information. Example: When a student is transitioning from ECSE to K there is not enough information for parents to make choices.
  • Define better what parent “input” means – need to get our teams working better toward consensus.
  • Cultural issues: “I’m here to find out information and share it in my community. “
  • Big frustration:  Phone calls are not returned. “Then I go from ‘concerned parent’ to ‘angry parent’.”
  • Parents feel disempowered around placement/location. What gets communicated is that “you can’t shop.”
  • A barrier to information. Seems as if the mentality is: “If everyone knew where these services/options were, they all would be rushing to get them.” This is ridiculous, a  “scarcity” mentality when options are available.  It’s reasonable for parents to have some level of choice about the best fit.
  • Communication issue: With general education students, parents are welcome to volunteer. This is not conveyed to SpEd parents. “We do not feel welcomed to volunteer.”  Paras are not allowed to talk with parents.  This is a culture issue with SpEd teachers. Sometimes “district policy” is blamed.
  • District needs to trust parents – if we’re going to “jump” we all need to trust each other.
  • Have had a very positive experience with Terry Watkins to problem-solve around struggle of getting homework done.
  • Team and school community very “embracing”.
  • Label classrooms – not understanding what they mean.

Planning for Change
  • Will there be a variety of self-contained classrooms in each cluster? 
  • Special education issues have not been part of the high school reform discussion.
  • Would be willing to go to another school if there was an appropriate level at school.
  • When are we going to “jump”?
  • Will we be “jumping twice” because of other district reform initiatives (e.g. high school reform)?
  • What effect does the shift to self-contained have on costs?
  • How do you organize a continuum in a cluster when population shifting?
  • Will a student who is at a school be able to stay in cluster?
  • District needs to trust parents – if were going to “jump” we all need to trust each other.
  • Kudos to Joanne Mabbott for initiating this effort!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Action plans grow out of Day 3 Stakeholders Meeting

The program audit of Integrated Student Support is moving ahead. The latest step in this complex process was the Stakeholder’s Meeting Day 3, held Friday, Feb. 19, 2010.

I opened the meeting with comments intended to set a tone for open-mindedness and collaboration. And to recognize ourselves as change agents.

This effort has been a journey of collecting information, collaborating with partners and thinking about our future as a community of people striving to educate children.

This is hard work that will require tolerance, patience and, most of all, the ability to see things through the eyes of our teammates.

A great leader in teamwork and collaboration is author Stephen Covey. He inspires his audience to practice skills that truly enable people to work together in the right direction, toward a common vision with positive outcomes.

Dr. Covey reminds us that each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective.

But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or as we are conditioned to see it. He also says effective people are not problem-minded they’re opportunity minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems. Isn’t that GREAT!

Focusing on Chosen Theme
We moved on to a presentation from a panel of people representing resources within the community and available for parents.

Panel members were: Margaret Brayden, Executive Director, Multnomah County National Alliance on Mental Illness Oregon (NAMI Oregon); Jenna Brandse, Board Member, Northwest Down Syndrome Association (NWDSA); Shiela Warren, PPS Parent Union; Victoria Haight, Regional Trainer, Oregon Parent Training and Information Center (OrPTI); Anne Saracino, Swindell’s Center /Child Disability Resources; and Dawn Macready-Santos, Oregon Families Information Referral Services (OrFIRST).

Facilitator Kenneth Jones shifted gears and informed the group of approximately 80 people representing various stakeholder groups, (educators, specialists, parents, community partners and others) of the goal for the day.

The goal: Create an action plan for the recommendations that grew out of work accomplished at Day 1 and Day 2 of the stakeholder meetings, which were held in December.

Stakeholders sat at tables grouped according to their preference of a topic. Prior to the meeting, participants chose which of the 15 themes they most would like to address in the action-planning process.

The themes are grouped under three categories. They are as follows:

Time to collaborate with all partners (tables A & B addressed this topic)
Team & Co-teaching (table)
Training/Joint Professional Development (table D)
Access to LRE in Neighborhood Schools (table E)
Continuum of Services in Each Cluster (tables F, G, & H)
Equity in Staffing Based on Needs (table I)
Clear Entry and Exit Criteria (table J)
Vocational Options & Transition (table K)
Special Ed Curriculum & Materials (table L)
Building-wide RTI (academic) (table M)
Building-wide RTI (behavior) (table N)

Before anyone started working, however, we covered a few areas of business.

Our researcher Pat Steinburg and data guru Gary Obermeyer talked about their processes of information-gathering and data crunching. Look for more information from each of them that aims to shed more light on methods used to winnow data and focus on the above-mentioned themes.

Gary created a website that houses a significant amount of the data, as well as work generated at the stakeholder meetings. The website currently is available only for stakeholders. Eventually it will be open to everyone. Meantime, if you have any questions or would like to see information that is part of this program audit, please let me know. We will do our best to facilitate your request.

A theme not reflected in our work thus far is communication. Based on surveys of stakeholders leading up to Day 3, there is a need for action-planning that incorporates communication. In order for stakeholder recommendations to be implemented effectively, communication needs to be built into the process.

We had time for questions. The first was “How will these measures be implemented”? District leadership must give the green light, then stakeholders will be called upon to head-up action groups.

Another person wanted to know how concerns will be addressed that are not part of the Stakeholder process (data pertaining to ELL, diverse students and other areas not reflected in Pat’s information-gathering process). ISS Assistant Director Jennifer Jackson, Chief Academic Officer Xavier Botana and I are addressing this.

Kenneth made the point that the program review and the work being put into it at the stakeholder meetings actually is improving the ability of ISS to get better at addressing concerns.

Another person noted that few general education teachers attended the stakeholder meetings and wanted to know how to improve the showing of general education teachers. Kenneth suggested participants incorporate that goal into their action plans.

Identifying the Problems
Then it was time to get to work.

Kenneth gave the first assignment—Problem Statement Development.

He suggested each group start by reaching agreement on the problem that would be solved if and when an action plan is put into place for each recommendation.

Each table team had about an hour to identify problems associated with their issues. Kenneth requested that a couple of tables relay the problems they identified. His purpose was to demonstrate for everyone how the “problem” should be articulated.

For instance, one table presented its problem as a lack of “initial and new hire training. And that available training does not address the needs of workers. There is a lack of coordination and implementation of the training.”

Kenneth noted that the statement needed to identify a problem. “Those are great statements but what it says is ‘here is a lack of something, there is a lack of something. You need to say what problem would be solved.”

The group easily clarified its message by saying that students suffer because of inadequate training.

Identifying each problem that the recommendations and action plan aim to solve will be helpful in subsequent work, when leadership of the ISS program seeks support from district decision-makers.

Creating a Course of Action
The second assignment was for each group to brainstorm actions needed for each recommendation. Kenneth said to include actions that exist and those that need to be established.

For instance, the two tables focused on “time to collaborate with all partners” had five recommendations to work with. The one that received the most support in the voting phase of the Day 2 meeting is “Provide dedicated collaboration time for general education teachers, special education teachers, itinerants, paraeducators, ELL and TAG.

Presumably that would’ve been the first recommendation addressed by tables A & B.

The third assignment was for each table team to chart their action items for each recommendation according to existing, not existing, within my control and out of my control.

“A Tuning Protocol”
The final component of the day was for groups to pair up and present their action plans. The purpose was to provide and receive warm and cool feedback.

Kenneth emphasized that conversations with clarifying questions for each group and feedback that was neither critical nor complimentary would reveal areas of disconnects, gaps, dilemmas or other weaknesses.

In closing, I reminded stakeholders that the success of our program review is dependent upon their continued participation.

In April, I expect to have an answer from district leadership in regard to how this work will move forward. Meantime, stay tuned for updates on this blog.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The case for a continuum in PPS clusters

I’d like to share a story, which is based on facts, that helps illustrate the need for reconfiguring how the Integrated Student Support program delivers services.

There was a five-year-old boy who asked his mother each day during the summer “when does school start?”

He knew how the neighborhood children, with their bright lunch boxes and really cool backpacks, got on a yellow bus in the morning. He knew one day his turn would come.

When the day arrived, he was decked out in his new jeans and sneakers, which he said would help him run fast at recess.

Mom bought him a G.I. Joe lunch box and his big brother said he could borrow his backpack with the black and silver stripes.

When Teddy arrived at school, he discovered many exciting things to do and new friends to play with. Things went along fine. For awhile. Then he noticed no one wanted to play with him anymore. His mom had to come to school and afterward she told him he would be going to a new school.

The neighborhood kids didn’t go to his new school. He was picked by a different bus—one Teddy was pretty sure was smaller than the buses his neighbors rode.

Hmmm, thought Teddy. I guess this is alright. So off he went on his next adventure. The school was smaller and the class had only 10 students in it. There was more than one teacher, so he did get a lot of attention. He stayed at this school the rest of the year. His mom was very happy with the new friends she met at his school. At night, she went to a meeting called the PTA. Sometimes she even came on his fieldtrips and worked in his classroom. She said she would come to more but his brother still went to the school in their neighborhood. She said she did not have enough time.

Just before 2nd grade was about to start, Teddy’s mom told him he would be going to a different school. He asked “you mean I get to go to school with my neighborhood friends again?” His mom told him that was not what she meant.

“This school is not in our neighborhood either,” she said. “Your classroom from last year moved and this other school is where you will go.”

“Oh,” said Teddy. He didn’t feel so excited this time.

When he got to 2nd grade, Teddy saw his classmates and one of the same teachers from 1st grade, so it was OK.

School was getting harder and Teddy felt more frustrated. The other kids seemed to know things he didn’t.

As the year went on, Teddy felt left behind. He cried a lot and his mom only came to school to have meetings about him. No more PTA or new friends for his mom. His teachers were always so nice. The principal, who always smiled at Teddy, would ask him how he was doing. That made him feel special.

During winter break, Teddy and his mom had a talk. She told him that there was another classroom at another school where he would not feel so frustrated. So, off he went again, to start over with new friends and new teachers.

He didn’t try to make friends this time. It was just too hard and he probably wouldn’t stay anyway. Teddy thought school was boring and no one seemed to smile at him anymore. He felt sad most of the time, cried a lot, and if a teacher asked him to do something hard he would run away. Sometimes he had to sit in a small space until he felt better—at least that is what the teacher told him. He never really felt better, though.

Finally, summer was here and Teddy was relieved. He finished 2nd grade thinking 3rd grade would be awesome.

Late in the summer, however, a letter arrived from the school district. Teddy saw his mom shaking her head as she read it. Then he heard her on the phone. Her voice was that high pitch, like when she is mad. Teddy covered his ears. He was worried he had done something wrong. He heard her say, “not another school! This is just not fair!”

By the time Teddy went into 3rd grade, he had been to five schools. In the 1st grade Teddy was found to be eligible for special education, which forced him to leave his neighborhood school. Instead, he would be placed in a self-contained classroom at a different school.

After completing 1st grade at his second school, Teddy had to change schools because that one didn’t have room for him in second grade. But by winter break of 2nd grade, at his third school, Teddy had to make yet another change. In order to accommodate his need for a more restrictive educational environment, Teddy was forced to transfer to his fourth school.

Teddy completed 2nd grade in a behavioral classroom, where his outbursts and habit of running away could be managed better. To go to 3rd grade, Teddy had to change schools for the fifth time because the school where he went to 2nd grade didn’t have a 3rd grade classroom.

There was no continuum.

Parents, students, teachers, administrators, unions and leadership all agree that a continuum in PPS clusters is needed. The special education stakeholder team that is part of the special education program review rated establishment of a continuum as the very most important issue that needs solving within the school district.

It also is my call to duty to provide leadership and direction that can lead to a solution for this issue.

We are doing this by looking at data and selecting classroom space in buildings that meet specific criteria.

We are just getting started on designing a continuum of services for a self-contained program. It is a complex process that requires patience. I will keep you updated on our progress.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Highlights from my visit with SEPTAP & a link for Parent Union

I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking Dec. 8th to parents who
attended the regular meeting of SEPTAP. SEPTAP, which stands for Special
Education PTA of Portland, formed last school year.

It was a privilege for me to be invited to this meeting. I felt as
though it was a very productive meeting with parents who are advocates
for their children.

We spoke about several topics and had time for Q & A.

Some of the more newsy items included:

* Integration. The district is working to integrate the services
provided “special education.” Instead of being seen as a silo within the
district, the goal is that we now are part of what happens in the larger
picture. As such, the name of our department is being changed to
“Integrated Student Support,” also known as ISS. Our department is a
combination of Student Services and Special Education, including 504,
health services, and Early Childhood Evaluation.

Work is still being done on the change. The website, for instance, has
not been changed and still refers to our program with old terminology.
Stay tuned.

* TOSA. A TOSA, which stands for Teacher on Special Assignment, is the
first contact at the district level for parents. Parents need to start
with the staff within the school who are closest to their student. A
TOSA will be able to provide assistance after a parent has worked with
the teachers/specialist and the administrator within their child’s

* Stimulus spending. With money from the Economic Recovery Act of 2009, ISS has been able to maintain staff positions that would’ve otherwise
been cut.

Other projects were shared that were supported by stimulus funds.
I encouraged parents to call their program administrator or our office
if they have an issue that doesn’t get resolved through the building

I’d like to mention another parent group that formed this year, The
Parent Union. Here is a link to its website:
Here is a link to SEPTAP’s blog:

I look forward to participating with both Parent Union and SEPTAP.