Special Education Teachers and Families Come Together to Discuss Shared Challenges

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Bethany Meyer, left, is a Resource teacher at Piedmont Elementary, and Cintya Molina, right, is a parent of a special needs child at Grass Valley Elementary (and works at United for Success).

 

This week I held a community forum called Building a Shared Agenda for Special Education Families and Teachers, with the goal of bringing families and teachers together to discuss the common challenges they face in their work to support the success of OUSD students.  It was a great opportunity for parents to hear the challenges that OUSD SPED teachers face, and for teachers to hear about the challenges that SPED families face.  I wanted to share some of what I heard with constituents, because it was very powerful. 

And if you weren't able to attend, don't worry, because I think we will do more sessions in the future.

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Cintya Molina, left, was one of our speakers.  She has been a very active parent in OUSD's Community Advisory Committee.

Cintya Molina shared her experience as a SPED parent, and discussed the difficulty of having brand new and inexperienced teachers for her son's first two years of school, and how that led him to fall behind.  She discussed how her son is often isolated from other students at the schools he attends, because the integration of SPED programs with everything else at the school is very shallow.  Sometimes this leads to a successful program falling apart when an exemplary teacher leaves, because their practices do not become institutionalized at the school.

She also discussed how critical the mix of students is in Special Education classes, and shared that her son basically 'missed' his third year of school because three violent children were placed in the class midyear, and their needs were so great that other students didn't get sufficient attention.

Cintya feels strongly that all Oakland schools need to offer services for Special Education students, and to offer the breadth of support from mild to severe disabilities.  She believes that this is the only way to offer real inclusion, and that the way we do special education currently means that students get less both inside and outside the classroom, because many of the schools that are doing the best work with students (trips, enrichment etc) in Oakland do not offer special education services.

She also discussed that school redesign work in Oakland has typically excluded engagement with the special education community, and so the needs of those families are not usually considered when schools are being redesigned.  My ears perked up when I heard that because I am closely observing the redesign work happening now at Oakland's Intensive Support Schools.  I want to make sure that we do not replicate the mistakes of the past.

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Bethany Meyer shared her experiences as a new teacher in SPED.  As a first-year resource teacher, Bethany was not provided teaching materials or coaching or professional development that was specific to her work.  She improvised her curriculum and materials, partly from materials that were laying around the two schools she was assigned to. 

Being assigned to two schools meant having to develop two seats of materials, one for each school.  None of the teachers in the room on Tuesday, including Bethany, knew how to access the $200/year that is available to them to purchase materials for their classes, so she purchased all of her materials out of her own resources.

What was hardest Bethany's first year was the lack of time available for planning instruction.  She spent 500 hours just on IEPs her first year, and was often pressed to find the time to get students the instruction they need.  It has been an ongoing struggle to find the time necessary to collaborate with general education teachers, even though it is critical for general education teachers to learn about strategies to support students when they are not with the resource teacher (which is most of the time).

Most of the training that SPED teachers get is focused on legal compliance, which is obviously important, but so is learning how to support general education teachers who have the students most of the time.  Bethany also talked about how SPED teachers and students are often invisible in the school community, and they are often excluded from PTA funding, for example.  She believes this is partly because SPED students are often brought to school via busing rather than by their parents.  This means that they do not get to know the other parents, which in turn means that they are often not involved in PTA or the SSCs, and that they get left out of important discussions about funding priorities, etc.

Wearing her parent hat, Bethany also shared that no one really trains SPED parents on their rights, or what they can do to better support and advocate for their students.  Parents need support and need to know that IEPs are drafts and can and should be changed as student needs and capabilities change.

There were many other parents and teachers in the room who shared their concerns.  There was a lot of alarm about the restructuring happening in PEC (Programs for Exceptional Children), especially about the consolidation of programs that have been successful and the changing roles of SPED paraprofessionals.  Several teachers remarked that we need more differentiation between programs and staff, not less, but there is restructuring underway that many teachers believe will not improve PEC's offerings, and that will also increase the high rate of teacher turnover among SPED teachers and paraprofessionals.

Teachers and families also voiced concern about the growing size of special day classes, and the lack of teacher orientation that is specific to the needs of SPED teachers.  They also pointed out that SPED teachers are highly sought after, and that other districts offer bonus pay to SPED teachers, and that this contributes to the high rate of churn among PEC teachers.  They argued for a stop to the restructuring until all existing PEC vacancies are filled.


What I heard most clearly at the meeting was that SPED families and teachers both experience isolation and a lack of support, and I will be thinking about how to reduce this going forward, and how to have deeper integration of SPED families into school communities. 

I also heard that our teachers and staff, despite the many positive changes in PEC, still aren't feeling the kind of support that I would like them to experience, and that we still have a ways to go.  I think that having an orientation specific to new PEC teachers is critical and will be recommending that as a first step to the staff in PEC.

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Passing the Torch Event Connects OUSD Design Teams and Experts in School Redesign

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Minh Tram Nguyen talking with Steve Jubb, who facilitated the gathering

Today dozens of Oakland parents, students, teachers and staff from four of Oakland's Intensive Support Schools gathered to learn from experts who have successfully redesigned Oakland schools.  Teams from Fremont High School, Castlemont High School, Frick Middle School and Brookfield Elementary came together to hear the stories of Emma Paulino, Minh Tram Nguyen and Nicole Knight, who discussed their lessons learned about redesigning schools in Oakland.

The goal of the event was for team members to learn from (and connect with) these experts, to get coaching on specific challenges they are facing as they begin to draft their proposals, to share with OUSD's administration what it takes to support new school development, and to capture the lessons learned for posterity and for sharing with the wider education community in Oakland. 

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 Liz Sullivan, Alison McDonald and Christina Anderson discussing Family & Community Involvement

After the stories were shared, the teams had the opportunity to break into groups based on the relevant sections of the proposals they will be writing, such as culture and climate, leadership, teaching and educational program.  We also had a group on community and family involvement because many speakers noted how critical that has been for the success of many Oakland schools.  The involvement of parents and community members can help a school stay true to its vision as leadership changes and other events lead to shifting district priorities, and also helps to hold the district accountable for adequately resourcing and supporting the work of the school community.

I attended the break-out group on teaching.  Nicole Knight talked a lot about the importance of distributed leadership in building a strong school.  This can help a school to better weather changes in leadership, and also prevents burnout among Principals.  Teachers also feel more bought into the vision of the school when they are the keepers of the school's culture and vision.  Aaron Townsend and Nicole also talked about the Continuum of Professional Development which he developed while Principal of Coliseum College Prep Academy. 

This plan helps to focus the professional development offered to teachers, and makes clear to teachers the key areas that they are expected to develop in.  It is also helpful in hiring teachers, because having clear core competencies helps the school community to identify candidates who are fluent in the specific set of practices that teachers at that school are expected to be familiar with.

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 Kevin Taylor and Ron Smith huddled as the meeting kicked off.  It was brutally hot, but everyone stuck it out.

Participants got a lot out of the event, despite the heat.  There are still many experts that we think it would be good for design teams to hear from, so we expect to do a second gathering next month. 

In terms of next steps, the district will soon be announcing dates for a series of proposal workshops that design team members can attend to get feedback on their proposal ideas.  Watch the Intensive Support Schools website for more information.

We will also be holding another Passing the Torch event, likely on April 18.  Stay tuned for more details.  That event will allow us to hear from some of the experts that weren't able to attend today's event, and hopefully all five design teams will be able to attend on that day.

Additionally, we recorded most of the day and those videos will soon be posted on OUSD's website.  We will also be creating a document about the lessons learned that will be broadly shared in the community.  We aren't sure about the timeline for that document yet, but stay tuned.  It will be posted here once it's available.

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Thank you, Oakland!

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Me with my dad and his partner Rosemary, who made hundreds of reminder phone calls to voters in the days before the election.

 

Thank you, Oakland voters, for the vote of confidence!  I was elected by a large margin last week, and am honored by your faith in me.

I am determined to be an informed, responsible board member, and am working as I write to put together a cabinet of people who will help me to learn as much as I can in the coming months, so that I can make responsible decisions and provide sound leadership on the board.  There is a lot to learn.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some photos with you from my victory party, which was generously hosted by Rafael Zamora at Digital Design Communications, with food and drinks donated by Otaez and Pepsi.

I was blessed with a great staff and supporters, many of who are pictured here.

More to come as I embark on this journey!

 

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Me with Nell and Elizabeth, two members of my awesome staff!

 

Victory_Party_3.jpgMe with Janan and Vicente, two of the finest teachers and strongest supporters in Oakland.

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Strong Support from Education Supporters

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I have been honored in recent weeks by the growing support among education leaders in Oakland and Alameda County.  Recent endorsements have come in from many of the Peralta Community College Board trustees, including Meredith Brown, pictured above. 

Additional education supporters include:

Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Delaine Eastin, Former California Superintendent of Public Instruction

Roseann Torres, Oakland School Board, District 5

Dan Siegel, Former Oakland District 6 School Board Member

Bill Withrow, Peralta Community College District Trustee, Area 1, Former Mayor of Alameda

Meredith Brown, Peralta Community College District Trustee, Area 2

Cy Gulassa, Peralta Community College District Trustee, Area 6

Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, Peralta Community College District Trustee, Area 4

Peggy Herndon, Former Trustee, Fremont Unified School District

Lisa Brunner, School Board Trustee, Hayward Unified School District

Jeff Bowser, School Board Director, Pleasanton Unified School School

Vince J. Rosato, School Board Trustee, San Leandro Unified School District

Corina Lopez, School Board Trustee, San Leandro Unified School District

Diana Prola, School Board Trustee, San Leandro Unified School District

Sarabjit Cheema, School Board Member, New Haven Unified School District

Linda Fernandes, Former School Board Member, New Haven Unified School District

Naomi Eason, EdD, California Executive Director, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life)

Dr. Rich Sherratt, Trustee, CSU East Bay Education Foundation

Linda Olvera, Member, Latino Education Network

Cynthia Adams, Second Vice President, NAACP Oakland Chapter

Sharon Rose, Education Chair, Block by Block Organizing Network

 

I am looking forward to working with all of these people - and others to come - soon, as a member of the Oakland School Board!  Together, we are going to do great things for Oakland schools.

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OEA Kicks Off Campaign for Endorsed Candidates

Tonight was the Campaign Kickoff for the Oakland Education Association, so I got to hang out with Oakland's finest, and also the other OEA-endorsed candidates, including Dan Siegel (Candidate for Mayor), Karl Debro (endorsed for School Board in District 4) and Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who has endorsed me for School Board.

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Also included in this photo are Doug Appel, who works for CTA and Janan Apaydin, who teaches at Kaiser Elementary.

It is such an honor to be endorsed by Oakland's teachers, who show such tremendous grace under pressure every day.  They are the lowest paid teachers in Alameda County, serving some of the most challenging kids.  I am really looking forward to working with them to address some of the problems facing the district.

Some additional photos are below.  I have to admit that schmoozing was not something I enjoyed at the start of the campaign, but I am enjoying it now, and I got to talk to lots of teachers who will be walking and phoning in my race, many of whom also live in my district.

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Me with Assemblymember Rob Bonta.

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Me with Stella Collins, who teaches at the Arroyo Viejo CDC, and whose family lives in my district.

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Fun Neighborhood Project with Campaign Volunteers

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This weekend I helped some of my campaign volunteers with a fun neighborhood beautification project.  We planted trees and plants at the Valero gas station at 73rd and Bancroft.

It looks much nicer now, so thank you Jose and Daniel for your leadership on this project!

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My main job was to corral and bag the monte (weeds), as we say in Spanish.  What can I say - all God's creatures have a place in the choir!

Jose and Daniel are having a house party for my campaign on August 5, and all are welcome.  Please RSVP to [email protected] if you'd like to attend.

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Why I'm Supporting the Linked Learning Parcel Tax

The Oakland School Board recently approved a resolution that will place a parcel tax on the November ballot for the purpose of expanding opportunities for Linked Learning in Oakland middle and high schools.

Linked learning is a method of integrating classroom curriculum with real-world opportunities for students to apply their new knowledge through internships and work opportunities.  The research on linked learning demonstrates that opportunities for both in-class and out-of-class learning can increase student engagement and help make the curriculum more salient for students.  Linked learning also boosts graduation rates, college enrollment rates and can also increase earning potential.

The specific goals of the tax are to increase access to college prep classes, to provide work-based learning in every high school, to increase supports to students in danger of dropping out, such as counseling, tutoring, and mentoring, and to help students through their transition to high school and college.

What is especially exciting for me is that linked learning fills a critical gap that currently exists in helping students to navigate and transition to the world of work.  Even students who do everything right struggle to figure out how to get to where they want to be in their careers.  If you do well in high school, you can go to college, but then what?  How do you translate a degree into a career?  What are your options if you don't want to go to college?

Linked learning can help students to build relationships with professionals who will ideally become mentors and help them to navigate these tricky questions.  Through having hands-on work experience, students will also learn what, specifically, they do and do not like doing within their chosen field.  And they learn about the norms of the workplace, which are different from high school and college, and do take some experience to learn, and are essential to learn to be successful in the work world.

In my own case, my first internship was in college, and I interned with an Alameda County program.  Both of my parents are public sector workers, but I realized pretty quickly that the public sector was not the right fit for me.  I have enjoyed my career in the non-profit sector, however it was largely unpaid, rather than paid, work that helped me discover my passion for leadership development.

My first real job also afforded me the opportunity to work with two managers who have continued to be great mentors and friends, long after I stopped working for them.  These relationships have been critical to helping me navigate my career choices.

There is no handbook for young people to figure out how to build a successful career.  What I know is that it takes a variety of experiences for people to figure out what interests them, and strong relationships to establish a successful career.  Investing in linked learning is an investment in both of these important things, and will help make this difficult transition a little easier for Oakland's students.

Yes on the College and Career Readiness for All Act!

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Endorsed by Oakland Teachers!

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I have the distinction of being the choice of Oakland teachers for the Oakland School Board District 6 seat!  This is a huge vote of confidence, and as the daughter of a teacher and the granddaughter of three teachers, I'm proud of this accomplishment.

Oakland already has some great schools, and we also have some that have a long way to go to catch up.  Our teachers are critical partners in our efforts to improve education in Oakland, and I look forward to working side by side with them in the work ahead.

Above is a picture of me with Keith Brown, a supporter and teacher at Bret Harte Middle School, who is also on the Oakland Education Association Executive Board.

More dispatches from the campaign trail coming soon!

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Close Encounters of the Ecological Kind

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I had the fun experience a couple of weekends ago of meeting some parents and community members from the Melrose Leadership Academy for the painting of a new mural at the school.  They received funding from stopwaste.org for a mural to teach kids about composting.

I learned about their programs for schools, which I didn't know anything about, and I took the pledge to compost, which is the theme of the mural I helped paint.

I had never painted a mural before; it was fun, and so was meeting some of the Melrose parents and neighbors.  If you get a chance to stop by and see the mural, check out the ants - I painted them!  See below.  I also painted some of the vines in the bottom photo. 

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Below are some of the volunteers I got to work with.  Pancho Pescador, the art teacher at the school, designed the mural.  He and the Melrose students have painted most of the murals at the school.

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Endorsed by Progressive Majority!

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I'm pleased to announce that I have been endorsed by Progressive Majority.

Progressive Majority works to elect progressive champions, and seeks to recruit progressive candidates of color and bring new people into the political process.  They care about the same things I do: economic justice, civil rights, healthcare,
the environment, reproductive freedom, and most importantly, a quality public education for all.

You can see my candidate page on the Progressive Majority website by clicking here.

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