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.