Hi, my name is Joseph. I live with my partner and our two children, Ben and Ron, in the center of the city. Our two kids go to a public elementary school. Ben is in fifth and Ron is in third. We are now embarking on a search to find a middle school for Ben. We are doing so with a great amount of trepidation for one main reason: Ben is in special ed. He tends to lose focus and also tends to "process" things slower than other kids. He is in what is known as the "inclusion" program at his school. Under the "inclusion" program, he is in gen ed classes, but gets extra support. The road in the public schools so far has been a rocky one so far. Let me explain.
We thought we were well-educated parents who knew how to advocate for our kid, but nothing prepared us for the complex and byzantine system that SFUSD's special education programs present. We've learned some hard lessons in the process -- and I'm sorry to say usually well after when it would have really helped Ben. The elementaries in the city that all offer special ed programs are the same "on paper" -- but in reality they could not be more different. Some have principals who care about special ed and are engaged in helping special ed kids. Some view special ed, frankly, as a drag on their quest for higher test scores. Some have well-trained, active special ed teachers who go the extra mile to help the special ed kids; some have poorly trained ones who are simply going through the motions. And the greatest frustration is that staff turnover can change a school's special ed program literally over a summer. We know these things only because our original elementary simply wasn't working for Ben. We struggled to make things work there before finally realizing that the school was just not good for special ed kids. We then went through a crazy process of trying to move him to a new elementary. We are now at a school where the principal emphasizes special ed and where the special ed professionals are all well-trained and proactive. Ben is happier than he has ever been and is making great progress. But now we have to find him a middle school that will work for him.
The way SFUSD's special ed is currently set up, Ben's "inclusion" program is only available at a few middle schools -- mostly all large ones. Our worry is whether Ben is going to be able to navigate a large middle school. And the anecdotes we hear from others parents are not good. So we are going to look at the public middle schools that have inclusion, but we are also going to look at charter K through 8's. And we have not foreclosed moving out of the city if that's what it takes, although we are both pretty committed to staying here.