RPS on “Defining Engagement: The Impact on Alternative and Special Education”

The first panel discussion I want to unpack in detail is one presented by Randolph School Committee member Keith Wortzman, Randolph Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Anderson, and Maria Lopes, the Director of Special Education of Randolph Public Schools.

I attended this hoping to learn more about ‘best practices’ for education those students with special needs. The description is as follows, from the MASC.org website:

Engagement requires a focus on several components that revolve around the student: community, parent and staff. This presentation will share how Randolph Public Schools has been working to address the needs of all of its students with an intense focus on those with special needs and those in the alternative program. This panel will present strategic methods from varying perspectives representing parents, community members and staff. All are linked and assist in creating opportunities and an environment in which all individuals are comfortable and confident in their educational interactions.

Before I start on the unpacking of my notes and takeaways, a brief word on the term ‘Special Education.’ I have serious reservations with this term. I take even more offence with the abbreviated term ‘SPED.’ In discussing students with special needs as a class with teachers and parents alike, I have come to understand that SPED or special education is used most often by the students themselves as self-descriptors and in a fashion that is not merely self-deprecating, but flippant. These students when using these terms are ironically showing the teachers and those around them that they are in fact marginalized. I view all education as special, and recognize all students learn via different modalities. I am, for instance, a kinetic, auditory and visual learner. I learn by seeing, doing and hearing, preferably all at once. Indeed, all students have special needs, as we each learn differently. Frankly, I find ‘special needs’ to be a more general and appropriate descriptor. Thus, whereas many will use ‘special education,’ I will use ‘special needs.’ Now onto the originally planned programming.

RPS has a significantly more diverse student population than we do here in Melrose, though with slightly fewer students (~3000 at RPS v. ~3700 at MPS) and a nearly identical number of schools, with 4 Elementary Schools, 1 Middle School and 1 High School. Their strategy is ‘Building Capacity: Increasing Rigor Through Relevance and Positive Relationships.’ They have a higher-than-state-average percentage of students with disabilities (23.4% v 17.1%) and students with high needs (58.2% v 42.2%). This sets the district up for challenges in meeting the needs of these students.

wpid-img_20151110_230413.jpgHow RPS approaches the educational needs of these students was of keen interest. Of the 4 Elementary Schools, 3 are specialty schools: a Communication Learning Center, a Therapeutic Learning Center and a Developmental Learning Center. The Middle School has a Therapeutic Learning center, a Language Based Learning Center and an Intellectual Learning Center. The High School has both a pre-vocational program and an alternative program.

RPS Director of Special Education, Maria Lopes, oversees a broad and diverse team of inclusion teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service providers. With this approach, the number of out of district placements of students with special needs has decreased from 97 students in 2013 to 65 students in 2015.

Lastly, Superintendent Anderson stressed that rigor as a buzzword is overused, but if redefined, it has meaning:

He then left us with this last video:

Hit the ground running: Attending the Joint MASC/MASS 2015 Conference

No sooner did I win a seat on the Melrose School Committee on Tuesday, November 3rd, than did I have a chance to dive right in: On Wednesday, November 4th I went to Hyannis for my first Massachusetts Association of School Committees and Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Joint 2015 conference.

Watch this space as I unpack and process all that I learned.

In the meantime, the lectures and panels I attended,  include:

  • What School Committees Should Ask for from their School Business Officer
  • Defining Engagement: The Impact on Alternative and Special Education
  • Understanding the Redesigned College Board Assessments: PSAT and SAT
  • School Law 101
  • Keynote Speakers Dr. William Pollack and Ron Walker: Boys in Crisis
  • District Governance Program
  • Jack Gallagher, “A Different Kind of Cool”
  • Model Language for Knotty Problems: Do’s and Don’t’s of Collective Bargaining
  • New Member Orientation, Part 1
  • New Member Orientation, Part 2

I tweeted about many of the lectures, so review my feed for highlights. Over the course of the next few days I will talk about the experience and the panels.

One truly awesome experiences of the conference was the ability to network with like-minded people. In many cases, I met people whom I have followed and interacted with on social media. Additionally, I met many new people.

I cannot understate the value of networking: Whereas current Open Meeting Law places severe restrictions on the kinds and depth of policy and business discussions members of a School Committee can have out of session, School Committee Members from other committees can often share experiences, advice and opinions without fear of deliberations or OML violations.

Let me close with this: I was elected Tuesday. I attended the Joint MASC/MASS conference from Wednesday through Saturday. Today is Sunday. Time for family-centric activities. Thank you for reading.

Thank You

NOTE: The following press release was sent to both the Melrose Free Press and the Melrose Weekly News for print in the editions for the week of November 9, 2015.

On Tuesday, November 3, 2015, the voters spoke. I am so very honored to have been elected to School Committee.

I want to thank Jaime McAllister-Grande for her passion and dedication to the education of our children. I want to congratulate Ed O’Connell for his election to the School Committee, and Margaret Driscoll for her re-election.

I also want to thank all who helped me with my campaign- I could not have succeeded without you, and in turn, without the confidence of the voters. I’m humbled.

The path forward has challenges and opportunities. We face a school system with aged buildings, a growing student population and various infrastructure needs, including technology, and we have a finite budget to manage these needs. Indeed, the challenges are great, but with challenges come opportunities for growth and improvement. I am excited for what the future holds.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” While I have hit the ground running, I ask your patience and support as I grow into my new position. During my campaign, I learned by listening to you, be it on your doorstep, in your homes or wherever we met. I will continue to listen and learn. With your continued support, we can and will succeed.

Thank you,

Lizbeth