Special Education Forum

These were the questions asked and my responses from the Special Education Forum being held on Sunday 1/27.  For those of you unable to attend, I wanted to provide you with this information.

What is your assessment on how the D64 administrators and board addressed and are addressing SPED issues? What is your opinion on the district’s attitudes towards students with special needs, special education programs, students with behavioral problems, how can schools address the learning needs of students? Other topics: restraint and seclusion, teacher/staff mandatory training, contentious nature of IEP meetings, out of district placements, etc.

In reading up on the issues, the root of all of this has been a lack of transparency and communication which always leads to a lack of trust.   In conducting the audits, surveys, and inviting a consultant to review the program, it seems they are taking the right steps to identify the problems and making the corrections needed.

I do not want to personally go into what their attitudes were, I try to avoid judging people. It appears that there was a cultural issue, so the environment was never conducive to allow teachers and students to flourish.  All the parties involved, should feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and know they will be considered.  We need to get this right and then we can work from there, but the culture is key.  The trust level needs to improve between all parties.  There was damage done to that trust, but if the parties cannot trust that we all want our students properly educated, all the work in the world will not accomplish anything. The healthy take off is to set achievable goals and expectations with parents and staff up front, with scheduled follow-ups to make sure goals are being met and progress is being made thru the IEP process.  The more these conversations happen in the open, the less likely there will be surprises or disappointment.  During this time of transition, there cannot be enough communication.  We need to honestly set attainable goals for each child based on their individual situation.  Parents need to be realistic, educators need to be equipped, and administrators need to be diligent in holding everyone accountable.  Regarding students with behavioral issues, we need to be mindful of the safety of all students.  We need to evaluate up front and set the goals for each student, and if any changes need to be made they must be communicated professionally and formally so everyone is on the same page.

What steps would you propose to eradicate inconsistencies between schools, as referenced by the former interim SpEd Director and the SpEd audit?  

The easiest way to accomplish this is to improve communication between the district and the individual schools. There must be consistent training across all the schools with open and clear communication from district level to the school level. This way, all the educators hear the same message with scheduled meetings to share and learn what is working and what is not.

Specific to SPED, what non-negotiable goals would you seek to establish and ensure remain a top priority in the district? Why? What negotiable goals would you seek?

The top goal of the district should always be to ensure all students reach their individual potential and prepare them to leave the school having the most meaningful life. What these goals are will vary widely and needs to be developed in the IEP process.  Clear honest communication with all parties and make sure that we are continuing the work at home as well. If the goals being set up front during the IEP are not being met, we need to quickly evaluate the process or the people and make the appropriate changes.

How will you evaluate your decisions and consider how the possible outcomes would impact all students (academically, socially, emotionally) in various circumstances (SPED, gifted, minorities, etc.)?   Again, to me many of these answers stem from the fundamental truth that every life is inherently sacred and should be respected.  If we maintain that fundamental respect, the decisions will always flow positively from that.

What is your perspective on professional development/education for teachers, administrators, and paraprofessionals? Specifically, for SPED? I think we should set up opportunities for our people to collaborate with other districts that have successful programs.  Not all training is created equal, but I think we should be open to take instruction from those that do it well.  From the surveys, the area where it seems the training is needed is the IEP development.  This is critical because the whole process flows from this, so we need to make sure they are equipped to develop these appropriately.

What are your views on open data and transparency of information? What kind of school district information should be made public? Transparency will lead to the best results ALWAYS, nothing should be done behind closed doors unless legally required or where privacy of the parties involved is paramount.  When the transparency lacks, the distrust will always follow whether it is warranted or unwarranted.

Describe how you use data and information. Ex. Do you use data to seek information and monitor trends, identify needs, justify decisions, drive continuous improvement? Will you confront negative data to acknowledge weakness, seek solutions, revise goals, set expectations, recognize needs, and improve student learning and instructional improvement? This is a problem everywhere, we need to start from the clearest slate possible and let the evidence take us to the solutions and reveal the problems.  In my personal life and at work, I am constantly pushing to find areas where I can improve. I do not mind criticism that is genuinely seeking improvement and invite it because I want to improve and have a positive influence on anything I am involved with.

What outputs matter most to you? How will you be accountable for them as a school board member?  (How will you help facilitate accountability and avoid distractions (operational issues, extraneous initiatives, and agendas, conflict, etc.) from hijacking the board’s strategic plans and role to keep students needs front and center?). 

The output is seeing our students leave our district achieving the goals we set out for them and equipping them with the skills to go on in life. There are a lot of distractions out there, I will address them if they are brought up, but I do not dwell on the nonsense because none of it helps reach that goal. I want to focus on problems and solving them, and I trust as you get to know me you will see that. I have reached out to parents with children with special needs and will continue to do so.

Against what metrics will you assess district leadership’s attainment of key goals? How will you know if a program or decision has been successful?   Communication with parents, teachers, and special education staff here is critical during the IEP process.  We need to have very open dialogue up front and set the goals that all parties can agree are attainable and measure how often the goals are being reached.  This is a difficult item to addresses with a rigid framework because there is so much variety of the needs between each student. Fundamentally we need to agree that each students’ well-being is important, and we are constantly striving to reach those goals that are set. Administrators, special education staff, and parents all have their roles, and need to be held accountable.  Unless we are truly willing to work together and trust each other we will not make progress.

What are the school board’s current challenges? How do you feel you can make a difference? What will you do to impact the efficacy of the school board? Ensuring trust and transparency in everything we do is the main thing we need to correct. All issues will arrive to better conclusions if we fix that including Special Education, Budget, New Superintendent, and Security just to name a few.

I ask questions and I desire to listen and try to see the situation from all angles. I want to try and help the toxic culture I see seeping into our community that we see on the national scene. Let us refrain from judging each other’s motives.  I assure you, I do not get involved with anything unless I have committed to doing a great job.  If you do not trust me with that, let me know why and I would love to talk about it. I also have deep desire for the truth and for transparency and I will defend her every time.