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.

Stakeholders working to improve ISS

As you may know, one of the district’s top priorities is to improve the effectiveness of the Integrated Student Support (ISS) program in order that it may better serve students and families.

As I shared at the two-day stakeholder meeting we held at the Memorial Coliseum Dec. 9 and 10, I am making a commitment to you, our stakeholders, that change for the better will happen within the ISS program. I feel it is my call to duty.

We are in the midst of an initiative that aims to do that.

Information-gathering began this year
We started last spring with a program audit that involved getting feedback from approximately 150 people representing stakeholder groups within ISS. Collection of this feedback, and crunching of the data that can be extracted from it, is being led by Pat Steinburg.

Pat has deep experience leading educators, administrators, unions and parents in collaborating to improve education systems and student outcomes. She also has extensive experience coordinating organizational processes in special education and general education. She is a speech pathologist. A resident of Washington State, Pat knows very well the landscape in the Pacific Northwest of special education programs.

In her work with our district, Pat visited 24 schools throughout the district and met face-to-face with stakeholders in individual and group interviews. She listened to administrators, educators, specialists, parents, the assistive technology team, TOSAs, the High School System Design Team, representatives from organizations that represent teachers, para-educators , and other employees, as well as with additional stakeholders.

This is a remarkable undertaking in that it never has happened at PPS. It also is significant because we have amassed from our stakeholders substantive information that reveals what works and what doesn’t.

This input has yielded data specific to special education and key in advancing our effort. The information shows us the perceptions of stakeholders, whether the system is working and makes our challenges more quantifiable. Ultimately, it helps us focus on areas where changes are needed in order to serve students better.

This kind of information-gathering is the first step in a process that organizations use when they are serious about making real change.

Proposals Coming from You
Last Wednesday and Thursday, about 108 people from our stakeholder groups—parents, educators, community partners, and administrators—gathered to participate in the effort to improve ISS. A professional facilitator led the event.

I found the process of the meeting very exciting. We heard from people who represent stakeholder groups. Everyone has a different experience in regard to ISS, formerly known as Special Education. We learned a lot about how the ISS program serves our students and families and also about how it fails to serve.

After hearing from our stakeholders, we saw highlights of the data and themes that have emerged from it. We discussed both.

The data and themes, not surprisingly, mirrored what the stakeholders told us at the meeting.

We also had lots of time take and answer questions.

Thursday afternoon, we got to the part everyone is waiting for.

Within our table teams, we focused on themes that emerged from the data. We also had the task of crafting recommendations for change.

Each team of approximately six to seven people was asked to brainstorm and come up with solutions according to these themes:

Address dissatisfaction with issues around inclusion of students in general education
[Related themes are: In-service needs (differentiated instruction, curricular adaptations/adoptions and interventions); increase time and opportunities for general and special educators to collaboratively develop individual student programs; and more access to para-educator time.

Consistent use of school-wide intervention plans/programs
[Related themes are: Reduce school-wide/classroom interruptions and improve safety; and early detection that results in early interventions for students with learning/behavioral issues.

Continuum of special education services
[Related themes are: The mix of students in special education programs interferes with the ability of special education teachers to meet the needs of all students who are assigned; increase continuum of program options for students in special education, including those with cognitive disabilities, behavioral disabilities and autism spectrum disorder

And brainstorm we did! For roughly two hours, it seemed everyone was at their table, engaged with their team and focused. Each one of us helped come up with recommendations for solving some of the weakest links in the ISS program. Each team wrote recommendations on poster-sized paper—one sheet for each of the three main areas.

On a fourth sheet of paper, we noted information that was missing or overlooked in the data.

As groups finished their recommendations, event coordinators taped papers to the wall. Themes were clustered, i.e., all of the pages with recommendations related to “continuum of special education services” were put together on one end of the room. Pages that suggested information missing or overlooked were put together at another end of the wall and so on.

When each team finished its recommendations and all the pages were hung, it was time to vote on the recommendations.

Everyone was given two sets of stickers.

We were told to put a gold star next to the four recommendations that we thought were “must haves” and a blue dot next to recommendations that are good and should be considered for implementation later. We each had four gold stars and four blue dots. We were told to vote for each idea only one time, not to vote four times for something that we really liked.

Then we got the OK to get up from our seats. It seemed that everyone, without hesitation, headed toward a corner of the room and began reading the recommendations.

We spent about 45 minutes making our selections.

My staff is working to tally the votes to see which have risen to the top. Stay tuned. We’ll post results as soon as possible.

(We are creating type-written versions of the sheets done by table teams. We hope to have them posted online very soon. Check back for details.)

Since our stakeholder meeting, I’ve received positive feedback. The event has been described as “worthy,” and “meaningful.” One person told me that they “feel for the first time in a longtime that something actually is going to change.”

Action Launches in February
The next step will be to generate a report from the meeting. We expect to complete that by the end of January.

In February, we’ll reunite the same 108 people who attended last week’s event. People can volunteer at that time to part of either an action panel or an advisory panel.

At February meeting, each action group will choose one of the “winning” or top proposals. The action groups will be designated catalysts, charged with implementing the proposal for change.

Advisory groups will serve to assist the action groups.

We hope to see some changes implemented in the 2010-2011 school year. Please keep in mind however, that this is a multi-year effort.

After our February meeting, we’ll report back with more details.

Feedback is encouraged. Please feel free to post here with recommendations and other comments that are constructive.