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.

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