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!

1 comment:

  1. If the parents are this concerned about the needs of their children being met, why is the district proposing the hours of para educators be cut by one half hour a day? This will greatly affect the teacher's ability to prepare for the next day. Clackamas district paras are given only 6.5 hours. I student taught in an elementary SLCA in Clackamas and saw first hand how overwhelmed the teacher became. To do a first rate job, as she always did, the teacher came in on Saturdays, some Sundays and often stayed until 6 or 7pm. She is burned out and is talking about quitting. Is that the answer? In my graduate classes I have heard the burn-out rate for SPED teachers is 3-5 years. If the para help is cut to save a few dollars, school districts may find the burn out rate even greater.