I recently was asked a question about my position on special needs on the MVWSD Community Open Forum on Facebook, and realized it would be worthwhile to share more broadly on this blog - this is an important and essential topic for any public school district.
Let me start off by saying that I've enjoyed knowing many parents of special needs students - and their kids - during our 9+ years in the District. Every family, every child, and every story is unique. More recently, I've come to more deeply understand parents' struggles, as my nephew was diagnosed with autism and sensory issues a little over a year ago; our extended family is learning how to adapt and continue to show him our love. It's a journey, for sure, and for every amazing day there are some tough, tough days as well - it's important that anyone in school leadership recognize this and be able to empathize with parents.
My goals for special needs education have been posted on my web site since it launched & I'll expand on them a bit here:
Ensure the District is ready to solve problems and create the right opportunities: Each student's need is unique, and our special education instructors AND principals need to be well-versed in how to address this. Not only having the right menu of solutions, but having strong relationships with parents. When we see turnover in instructors and principals, we lose the understanding of families' specific situations, and put parents in the difficult position of having to tell their story again. Opportunities should extend from independent instruction to appropriate assistance within the regular classroom environment; while it doesn't always work out, my bias is towards placing students in regular classrooms whenever possible, both in order to afford the students opportunities to work with others, and to help the rest of the class relate & understand how children with special needs are part of regular life. And please, let's not forget to make accommodations (As an aside, if you've seen the raised planter bed on a stand - so it's at wheelchair-accessible height - at Monta Loma... I built that along with a couple community volunteers when we did Beautiful Day Monta Loma a few years ago. Very fun, and memorable!).
Periodically review District performance to legal requirements and standards, including timely processing of IEPs and other plans: I'm an engineer, and sometimes I think there's nothing like a good graph or control chart to show us how we're doing. I have yet to meet a special needs parent who has been 100% delighted with MVWSD's performance - so let's track a few important things and use the school board meetings to shine a spotlight on them. Time from issue identification to plan implementation. Dollars spent on litigation. Parent satisfaction. Compliance. Take some of the subjectivity out of the discussion and just be clear about how we're doing, and whether or not we're doing better. Sometimes that's all it takes to help teams perform better and do... well, what we're all expecting them to do.
Keep recognizing special needs students as part of MVWSD's diversity: Diversity is something that sets our district apart, but diversity isn't only about race or socio-economic status, it's also about the diversity of our students' learning needs. Students with special needs can give us a different perspective on the world. Their gifts can help us see new ways of solving problems. When we look through this lens, we stop being preoccupied with meeting a minimal set of legal requirements for education - we start to see potential and exciting ways for kids to contribute to school and society. We need more of that orientation & I think we'll get more positive outcomes from it.
As always, I'm happy to hear more from parents on this subject & to continue our learning journey together.