Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hot topic: Lakeshore Inclusion Program

An SF K Files reader asked me to post the following:
Since you have so many viewers I was hoping you'd post a question: "Does anyone out there have feedback/information on the inclusion program at Lakeshore?"

16 comments:

  1. really? I know they have language classes before and afterschool.

    There was also that rumor that it would go K-8 that they've finally squashed.

    Now it's going immersion? which language?

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  2. No not immersion. Inclusion is a Special Education program.

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  3. I don't have any specific information on inclusion at Lakeshare, but my kid is in inclusion at another elementary school. I'd be happy to answer any general questions about how inclusion works, or doesn't work, from my perspective.

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  4. I'm wondering exactly what the person who requested the topic is asking about. I can generally tell her/him that my experience, as the parent of an inclusion student at another elementary in the city, as well as the experiences of other parents with special ed kids is that a lot depends on the particular individuals running a particular school's inclusion program. And that wonderful special ed person who is at the school this year may not be at the school next year. With that really big caveat, I think it is generally true that the schools like Lakeshore with a very committed PTA are generally more likely to have better special ed programs than elementary schools with disorganized PTAs, etc. That just reflects the reality that, all else being equal, the better special ed folks will try to transfer to the schools that have well-funded PTAs, etc. So, bottom line, I'd go meet the special ed folks at Lakeshore, realize that they might not be there next year, but realize also that Lakeshore is a great school with a well-organized PTA, and probably just go there.

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  5. 9:16
    when PTA presidents go around saying we spend too much on special ed and how "their kids suffer" because of all the money spent on special ed, I don't know why you'd think schools with PTAs are better for kids in special education.

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  6. The reason why special ed programs are generally better at the heavily-PTA funded schools has nothing to do with what the PTA might be saying about special ed. It is just a simple fact that, all else being equal, special ed teachers would rather be teaching at a school with all the perks and benefits of a well-funded PTA than at one without. Well-funded schools also tend not to have so many discipline problems, freeing up special ed teachers to do what they really want to do -- which is help kids. So special ed teachers will try to transfer or otherwise move to the better schools. Ask any parent of a special ed student who goes to the Marin public schools and you'll see this in stark relief. I watched this myself as the wonderful special ed person who I was so enamored of when I was applying to schools told me, barely one year after my kid started, that his transfer had finally come through to one of the tier 1 schools. His replacement? Someone who came from one of the schools that the District had had to shut down. Now your point about PTAs bad-mouthing special ed does come to play in terms of the potential for peers to verbally mistreat special ed kids. Obviously, if the PTA talking is bad-mouthing special ed, that attitude can get transferred to their kids, and that can be an issue. But social ostracism is really a much more complicated construct and I don't think you can lay all the blame at the PTA's feet.

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  7. I don't think the PTA has much to do with a good special ed. program. A good special ed. program thrives at a school where teachers work together as a team, where the leadership includes special education students, where these students are seen as valued members of the community. As a ("good") special education teacher, I can tell you that I don't care much about how much money the PTA raises. It's much more important to work in a school where teachers want to work with special needs students, where the principal values the special education program, where adults model inclusive behavior towards special needs students, where care is taken to help the special education students be members of the school community. No, it's not about how much money the PTA raises.

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  8. 10:14, I agree. I think the PTA takes way too much credit for things that happen at schools which have nothing to do with the PTA.
    And lots of schools are not PTA schools.

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  9. OK, 10:14 pm, so if it has nothing to do with PTA support, how is a parent supposed to figure out which elementary has a better special ed program? And, to be quite candid, I have yet to hear a positive story from a parent of special needs kids about any of the non-well-funded elementaries in the city, but I'm willing to listen if you've got ideas.

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  10. 10:14 here. I teach a self-contained mod/severe class, so I can't speak to the inclusion experience, but I can give you my opinion on signs you might look for when selecting a school.

    1. Is the principal familiar with the special ed. students? Does she know their names, does she have an educated understanding of their disabilities, etc? This is important because the principal sets the tone for the rest of the school-and either facilitates or inhibits inclusion.

    2. Are the special ed. students INCLUDED and VALUED members of the school community? Is their artwork on the wall? Are they invited to assemblies? Are they integrated into the lunchroom and recess, field trips, etc.? Easy enough to ask the teacher, or look around.

    3. Are the gen. ed. teachers knowledgeable about the special ed. students? How would they deal with one of their students bullying a special ed. student? Teachers model behaviors for their students. If they are ignorant, or don't support inclusion, then they will model this behavior.

    4. What happens on the playground? Are the special ed. kids included by their peers? Is inclusion supported by a para on the playground?

    5. Are there innovative programs that show you teachers really know what they're doing? For example, social skills groups, reading buddies, big buddies, facilitated play groups, para support at unstructured times like lunch and recess.

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  11. To the teacher of the moderate/severe class who responded on 6/9/09, THANK YOU for your input, it was very helpful. The original topic seems to have gone a bit astray. PTA issues aside, I still would like here from anyone out there who has had experience with the inclusion program at Lakeshore. The teacher who heads up the program has been at Lakeshore for 10 years and will be there for the 2009/2010 school year. I am just looking for info to be more knowledgeable and more aware of the upsides & downsides of their particular inclusion program.

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  12. I'm afraid you are not going to get people to say specific things about a specific individual in a specific school program on this blog. You were lucky enough to get someone above who has a kid in inclusion at another elementary school. Since I put in the comments above, I was not trying to lead the conversation astray, but rather give you some warnings: namely, (1) that specific person at Lakeshore you are interested in may not be there next you, so you should not be basing your entire decision on specific special needs staff members; and (2) your decision should be looked at in a broader format -- does Lakeshare have good parental involvement, is it relatively diverse, how good is the principal. The comments of the special ed teacher above, while helpful (particularly about the principal's commitment), are not really specific to inclusion but more about set-apart programs.

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  13. My kid has always been "in inclusion".
    The most important factor at a school is the school's leadership. If you have a strong leader at the top, who believes in including kids with disabilities in ALL the school's activities, who knows something about special education, who has the respect of the teachers, then that is a good start.
    I also picked a school based on who the special ed teacher was, but we showed up on the 1st day of kindergarten and were told that the teacher quit and went surfing in Costa Rica. Ugh.
    I later learned that the general ed teachers in the classes your child is in has more importance than the floating special ed teacher, the general ed teacher is with your child all day, the special ed teacher spends very little actual time with your child. So asking the general education teachers about inclusion is very telling ... if they don't make eye contact and shrug their shoulders and don't seem keen on the idea of having a kid like yours in their class, avoid that class.
    The other thing you, as a parent, can do to support the teachers is fight like hell for a bullet-proof IEP with all the supports and services you think your kid needs, because if it isn't written out, SFUSD will not do it. SFUSD will not do it half the time even IF it is written out, so keep on top of it and make sure the teachers get what they need to help your kid. It is a full time job, it really is, but my son would not be doing nearly as well as he is doing if I had put him in a segregated classroom, with only kids with disabilities as his classmates.
    sorry this was so long ...

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  14. Lakeshore is a fine school, but I think they have a problem with caseloads, that the inclusion program should only have 8 children in it (according to the UESF contract) but the teacher has 13 or 14 kids ... the union is not enforcing the class size limits for special ed teachers and with such high caseloads, there are problems. But unfortunately you will find that being a problem in every inclusion program in the district, too many kids and not enough teachers or paraprofessional aides.

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  15. To Anonymous w/the child in inclusion and to Anonymous with the caseload info, a big "THANKS'. Your responses were very helpful. We just recently got issued a SFUSD IEP for our child, but we're in the midst of adjusting it a bit. A personal visit to Lakeshore was made and I spoke to the head of the Inclusion program. At that time all our child's personal documentation and information was passed along. The thought process is that by passing this info along before the start of the next school year should be helpful in getting Lakeshore's SPED team to know our child better. Of course no parent wants to constantly monitor a school, it's teachers or programs, but the conversation which took place with the SPED teacher regarding our child's IEP left me concerned. Was it the overwhelming end-of-the-year time which made their answers seem vague and abrupt? Or could it be burnout after 10 years of inclusion @ Lakeshore? I want to give the benefit of the doubt but also want to make sure that the IEP is followed thoroughly. Four hours of negotiations with 6 of SFUSD's SPED team assembling an IEP should not be overlooked or taken too lightly! At the time of my visit a general ed teacher had not yet been assigned. Once we have our assignment a personal visit with her or him will be next on my 'to do' list. I assume that the school year ahead will be a very busy one ...

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  16. Special ed is funded by the federal government, not the PTA, nor the district. This includes: special day class, inclusion, and RSP services. I am surprised that no one has clarified this. SFUSD actually failed a self-imposed audit of the district's special ed program, as a whole.

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