I would support teachers.  We need more, qualified and properly certified teachers that are trained in special needs and ESOL.  We need to ensure that the balance of students in inclusion classes is manageable and ensure those teachers are supported with resources like co-taught teachers and special ed parapros.  This would support not just the teacher but general ed and IEP students they teach and it would enhance the learning environment for all.  If you put 25+ students in an 8th grade reading class and every one of those students has an IEP you are setting that teacher and those students up for failure.

 

CCSD should also be offering and encouraging general ed teachers to take more special education training to learn about the behaviors associated with the invisible disability students. 

 

I would also advocate for more social-emotional counselors, especially at the high school level where counselors are basically academic guidance counselors.  But elementary and middle schools that have high populations of students need more than 1 to 2 counselors. 

 

Furthering family and student engagement opportunities need to also be explored to encourage student and parent participation in enhancing their school climate and creating community bonding opportunities.  These could be activities like CCSD funded out of school education opportunities, community activities that center around the local school, and providing students opportunities to contribute to the social wellbeing of their community. 

I bring with me a history of educational advocacy that spans almost 16 years in public education, enhancing the school climate, working with stakeholders and supporting educational priorities that enrich the learning environment for all students.  You’ll have to go to my website to get a more in-depth list of my advocacy and accomplishments. 

 

  • I have three daughters who have been or are currently in Cobb Schools who value education and social advocacy

  • I’ve been a local unit PTA President for 6 years at all levels and am the current co-President at Lassiter HS.

  • I’ve been the Lassiter Kell Cluster Rep, Teacher of the Year Chair and/or Vice President on the executive board for the East Cobb Council of PTA’s (ECCC PTA) for 6+ years

  • I’ve been a committee chair on a local unit PTA for 14 years (3 of those being on a PTO while my family lived in Jordan), working on hospitality, anti-bullying, school safety, special needs support, legislation, family engagement, health and youth services, and so many more

  • I’ve been a Room Parent at least 8 times

  • I’ve been a successful Grant writer and Report writer for my PTA’s

  • I’ve been on two new principal search committees

  • I’ve been Volunteer of the Year 4 times at 3 different schools

  • I’ve attended every PTA Summer Convention, and almost every 9th District and ECCC event since 2012 and participated in multiple training venues learning about multiple issues concerning public education

  • I’ve successfully advocated multiple times both via emails campaigns and in front of the school board for priorities affecting my school

  • I have developed an amazing and wide-reaching network of educators, students, parents, educational advocates and community partners who are amazing resources for information.

  • I bring proven leadership abilities, an in-depth knowledge of educational priorities, a non-partisan approach to education, years of training in a wide range of issues regarding public education and how to support our teachers and all of our students.  

  • I listen and learn.  

  • I am a ferocious advocate, a passionate voice and a true believer that education is the path to success for our students.

Currently, there are actually two answers to this question. Under normal circumstances I would say that the failure to meet the unique needs of every child is our biggest challenge.  But these are not normal times and I would need to couple that with the loss of learning due to Covid-19.

 

First, CCSD needs to build a more inclusive approach to education that respects and protects the unique learning styles for all our children but most especially for our marginalized students. 

 

So inclusive learning provides all students with access to flexible learning choices and effective paths for achieving educational goals in an environment where all students feel valued and have equal access to learning. I want to emphasize the word “ALL” here.  In an inclusive education environment, all children, regardless of ability or disability, learn together in the same age-appropriate classroom. It is based on the understanding that all children and families are valued equally and deserve access to the same opportunities.

 

Inclusive learning goes hand in hand with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all students an equal opportunity to learn.  Basically, it recognizes that a one size fits all approach to learning is not realistic – even with our general education students – not just our marginalized children - and advocates to create flexible learning opportunities designed to meet individual needs.

 

Let’s talk the benefits of inclusive learning –

 

  • A big one is for our mainstreamed special needs students; these are the ADHD/ADD children, the high functioning Asperger’s or Autistic student, the dyslexic student, anyone who has an IEP or 504 that does not mandate fulltime specialized classroom instruction, etc. For a large majority of these students, they are not afforded an in class co-taught teacher and being pulled out of the classrooms for specialized instruction is the only option.  Well this is disruptive for the teacher, the class’s students and the student being pulled out – as well as the fact that now everyone knows that this student, or students, need extra help (which can itself lead to social issues like the ability to make friends, being labeled “different”, or being a target for bullies, etc.).  In a more inclusive environment, the classroom teacher and learning support teacher would work together to build a plan to keep those students in the classroom for their extra help.  This would further allow for general education teachers and specialists to work together and support each other in the same learning environment, which would consequently benefit all students in the classroom who would then be offered additional resources and support. This support often results in greater academic and social gains – social gains would be, for example, better communication and social skills – for both students with disabilities as well as students without disabilities.

Furthermore – with inclusive learning, studies have shown that

  • Teachers develop supportive relationships with students

  • Teachers decrease the potential for incivility and unproductive conflict

  • Student participation and engagement increases

  • Students are more likely to take intellectual risks, persist with difficult material and retain learning across contexts

  • that inclusion is beneficial for all students—not just for those who get special education services. In fact, research shows that inclusive education has positive short-term and long-term effects for all students.

  • Kids with special education needs who are in inclusive classes are absent less often. They develop stronger skills in reading and math. They’re also more likely to have jobs and pursue education after high school.

  • The same research shows that their peers benefit, too. They’re more comfortable with and more tolerant of differences. It makes different less different.  They also have increased positive self-esteem and diverse, caring friendships.

 

In an Individualized Education Program (IEP), is a blueprint or plan for child’s special education experience at school.  It provides individualized special education and related services to meet the child’s unique needs.  Differentiated instruction and co-teaching in a general education classroom make it easier for students with  standards-based IEPs to be taught the same material as their classmates.

 

But what this means is that we need to provide our teachers with a better understanding of the IEP’s and the or 504 process in order to integrate inclusive learning into their classrooms.  We need to provide them with the resources to understand and put positive behavioral modification practices in place that do not marginalize students but focus on how to work those into the student’s learning plan.  We need to give them the training and technology to get their buy-in for this change in the traditional learning plan. 

 

But let’s move on just a bit from inclusive learning for the special needs student to the student who is marginalized due to race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc.  Those are students who are also at risk to barriers to education who would also benefit from an inclusive learning environment.  For this I would embrace the PTA’s 4 principles of Transformative Family Engagement to become more

  • Inclusive to embrace and value diverse perspectives;

  • more individualized to meet the unique needs of every family and child;

  • more integrated to connect and align with the educational system;

  • more impactful in order to empower families to support their child’s success.

 

This can be done by

  • Creating a welcoming, respectful learning environment.

  • Determine essential course components

  • Communicate clear and high expectations and provide constructive feedback

  • Provide natural supports for learning to enhance opportunities for all students

  • Use teaching methods that consider diverse learning preferences, abilities, ways of knowing, and prior experience and knowledge.

  • Offer multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge

  • Promote respectful interaction among students and between teachers and the students (e.g. student feedback)

  • Provide parents and students an opportunity to become active participants in the climate of their schools.  Of course, I believe having a strong PTA and Foundation at the school gives more opportunities for social and educational involvement.

 

CCSD needs to invest in the Every Child One Voice philosophy.  We have the best teachers in the State who are hungry for innovative educational opportunities for their students.  We know the one mold of learning is not successful for all our students and need to work harder to provide a more inclusive learning philosophy for our students.

 

So I’m not going to talk about Covid-19 and how that will affect our schools tonight.  There are too many unknowns at this point.  I will say I have been doing a lot of reading about the different positions regarding how to safely go back to a brick and morter school.  We’ll talk about my thoughts when there is more information with which to make better decisions.

 

But let’s remember we need to support our educators during these times as they negotiate the challenges faced with distance digital learning and work to ensure our students are not losing knowledge.  It is imperative that we provide them with the resources, the partnerships, the support and the tools necessary to ensure foundational learning is not lost and our students are on a continuing path for success.