Tag Archives: inclusion

Let’s celebrate inclusive schools week!

Every year, the first week of December is Inclusive Schools Week. More than anything else, Inclusive Schools Week is about inspiring all of us to think bigger about who we are, which students our schools serve, and how we can serve every student better.

So, to help get you in the mood, here are some stories I find incredibly inspirational:

Including Samuel is a documentary made by a photojournalist whose second son, Samuel, was born with a disability. Samuel’s family believes strongly he should be included in mainstream classrooms, but they also understand the trade-offs that full inclusion can require.

Here is Samuel’s father, Dan Habib, giving a TED talk:

Harper’s Playground came to be after  Harper’s parents learned they would be parents of a child with a disability. They immediately wondered: how would they help Harper play with other children and find friends? From that, a movement toward more inclusive play spaces for children was born.


Recap: February 26, 2013

The second meeting in February is always the meeting nobody wants to go to, because it’s the meeting where the Board votes on layoffs and non-re-elect notices to non-tenured teachers. There had been some hope earlier in the year that, due to the brightening state budget picture and the passage of Prop. 30 in November, there might not have to be layoffs this year.

Unfortunately, there is still too much uncertainty in the state budget picture, not to mention the looming prospect of sequestration in the Federal budget–threatening almost $4 million in cuts to district resources next year– to eliminate layoffs entirely for 2013-14.  In addition, the district’s School Improvement Grant (SIG)  is ending this year, meaning we lose $15 million in annual funding we have received each of the last three years. Other categorical funding grants are ending as well.  Finally, the Board continues to push the Superintendent to fully align our budget with the ongoing priorities in our strategic plan, especially taking into account the lessons we have learned with SIG (e.g., the value of the community schools approach, on-the-job coaching and professional development, and family engagement).  Realignment in an environment where resources are still scarce means tough decisions about program needs across the district.

It’s perhaps overly sunny to call it good news, but there are fewer staff getting notices this year than at any time since I took office in January 2009; 191 fewer certificated staff than last year. No multiple-subject (elementary school) teachers were noticed this year.  With that, here are the numbers:

Staff receiving preliminary layoff notices for the 2013-14 school year (FTE):

Pre-K-12 Certificated (teachers, social workers, counselors, nurses)– 118

Early Education Department teachers– 10

Administrators– 24


In addition, the Board also voted to accept the Superintendent’s recommendation to “non-re-elect” 33 teachers across the district who would otherwise have been granted tenure if they were employed by the district in the 2013-14 school year. This is a very difficult decision, because by definition, a non-re-election of a probationary teacher can be made without any specific cause. A probationary teacher can (and many do) receive satisfactory evaluations and still not be re-elected, simply because the administrator supervising them does not feel it is a good enough fit to grant them tenure status.

The very difficult part for me  tonight was that 14 of the 33 were special education teachers — a job that is one of the toughest across the district, and of course a credential area that is perennially in demand. Being a new special education teacher is exceptionally difficult, and without adequate support it is more than likely a teacher will fail in some area or another. So the failure to “find a fit” is perhaps a greater failure of the district’s rather than the individual teacher; still, it is important to back up our administrators when they make the very tough calls we have been telling them they must make in order to continue putting student learning above all else.

Teachers who have been non-re-elected can opt to resign at the end of the year in order to avoid having “non-re-elected” appear in their employee file, and can apply for any future opportunity with the school district.

In the news:  Did you know SFUSD has the highest percentage of teachers who have attained National Board Certified status of any district in California? That’s right — 231, or about six percent of 3,600 teachers across the district–have now attained the prestigious (and rigorous to attain) professional designation.  The newest batch of teachers who have achieved this status in 2012-13 will be honored at the March 12 Board meeting.

We aim to please: A commenter recently asked for a copy of the bedrock principles of inclusion that were submitted as a proposed Board policy recently. Here they are.

Recap: January 29, 2013

We don’t often hold a Board meeting on a 5th Tuesday, but after last week’s agenda-posting glitch, it was lucky there was still another Tuesday left in January for a do-over from January 22.  And what a meeting it was tonight — public comment got very rowdy and I ended up clearing the room twice; finally the Superintendent called in SFPD to help us calm an especially agitated speaker.

I’m not going into all the issues people wanted to talk about — you can watch the meeting once it’s posted if you’re interested.  Generally, people were angry and wanted to tell the Board what was on their minds; that’s fine, but we also need to set reasonable limits on each speaker’s time or the Board will never get to business.  The rules and procedures that govern our meetings seem frustrating (e.g., you have to call in ahead of time or fill out a speaker card before an item is called if you want to speak publicly on that item; your time is set at two minutes or sometimes less, and your mike gets cut off if you ignore the time limit) but they have evolved over time to try to be fair to everyone with business before the Board and to help keep the meetings orderly and efficient.

And there was important business on the Board agenda — the Superintendent’s proposed “bedrock principles” of inclusion were introduced for first reading after a good discussion at the Committee of the Whole on Jan. 15; we also heard an information-packed report from the Bilingual Community Council on all of the issues related to the achievement of our English Learners.  We approved the 2013-14 spending plan for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) ahead of its hearing at the Board of Supervisors next month.

Finally, we discussed a somewhat controversial decision to raise the fee the school district charges charter schools for the use of district facilities — from 95 cents per square foot to $2.79 per square foot — over two years. The fee will rise to $1.87 in 2013-14 and another 92 cents in 2014-15 to reach $2.79 a square foot.  The fee has not increased in at least five years, but the main reason the fee is increasing is because the district realized it could change its formula to consider interior space as opposed to simply the exterior footprint of a building. Other districts, notably LA Unified, already do this, and charge considerably more than SFUSD is proposing. According to information given to the Board by staff this evening, LAUSD charges its charter schools $6 per square foot to occupy district facilities.

We honored members of the PEEF Advisory Committee (my appointee Bayard Fong will complete his service this month after serving a heroic four years; tonight I appointed Mark Murphy to fill his place — my undying gratitude to them both for their service).  We also honored Peer Resources and Mentoring for Success in honor of National Mentoring Month — I was particularly moved and struck by the easy and affectionate rapport between one mentor and her mentee (matched together for their “sassy personalities”) who shared their stories with the Board and the audience. I also loved hearing Mission HS principal Eric Guthertz talk about his experiences mentoring at-risk 9th graders: a best practice that Mission pioneered.

We also recognized the Early Education Department on the occasion of its 70th Anniversary, and heard information on the upcoming African-American Read-In sponsored by the SF Education Fund — elected officials and volunteers from all over San Francisco will read books by African-American authors and/or illustrators to schoolchildren at 16 schools on Monday morning, Feb. 4.

Oh, and last but not least, happy 100th day of school! I still remember helping my daughters with their count-to-100 projects in Kindergarten and how proud they were of the 100 hats they got to wear that day.

A bright spot

Sometimes, things happen to reinforce my faith that good things are happening in this school district, despite all the angry e-mails I get. Today, I had the absolute pleasure of attending the unveiling of a mural at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, created by two students from the Community Access Transition (CAT) class at the school. (Students in CAT classes are over the age of 18 but, due to their individual needs, still eligible for special education until the age of 22).  The CAT teacher at SOTA, Heidi Hubrich, noticed that two of her students had particular drawing abilities, and arranged for them to work with artists at an amazing local program, Creativity Explored.

Every Wednesday for almost a year, Steven Liu and Joel Kong worked with artist Larry Morace on drawing. Mr. Morace quickly noticed that Steven was especially talented at landscapes; Joel was especially talented at portraits. Both young men are extremely loyal to their hometown of San Francisco, and blossomed as artists when they began to visit locations around the city to find subjects to draw. Out of Steven and Joel’s work with Mr. Morace, a mural honoring San Francisco subjects was born.

The mural is  a lovely and inspiring artistic achievement in and of itself, but in the true spirit of SOTA (and its patron, Ruth Asawa), other student artists noticed the work and responded in kind. Two juniors in the Media Arts program created a five-minute documentary (which I am seeking to show at the March 22 Board meeting) about Steven and Joel and their mural. A student in the Creative Writing program wrote a poem about it. And today, artists and supporters from Creativity Explored, SOTA students and faculty, Steven, Joel and Heidi’s family members and many others gathered at SOTA to view the completed mural for the first time, celebrate the universal appeal and accessibility of the arts, and honor artists of all abilities.  Today’s event felt like a peek into a future we know can be in all of our schools – where students are respected, accepted and celebrated for what they CAN do rather than sorted based on what they CAN’T. It was lovely.

The next time you are visiting SOTA, check out the mural right next to the door to room 208, Ms. Hubrich’s CAT class,  and pause for a moment to think about whether the “dis-abilities” of the artists really matters.

For kids, it’s a day off. For the district, it’s a beginning.

Friday, March 4. It’s a day I’ve been hearing about and looking forward to for a while. Today, students are not at school because it’s a district-wide professional development (training) day. And at every school, every member of the staff will receive a half-day of training on how to include students with disabilities.

It’s past time, and today is just a start. But I think it’s also appropriate to pause and reflect on how far we have come in two short years. When I joined the Board in January 2009, the idea that we would devote any time in a precious professional development day (let alone HALF of that day) to improving our special education practices as a district was kind of unthinkable. But here we are.

As part of today’s training, staff at every school will watch a five-minute video that underscores the district’s commitment to improving special education services and expanding our capacity to be inclusive of students with disabilities.  It’s meant to both set the vision for the future, and highlight some bright spots in the district where we are already doing the work of inclusion thoughtfully and successfully. OK, yes, videos are not action — they are not hard evidence that things will really change.  But this video does represent a promise, from the Superintendent himself, expressed more directly and publicly than I have heard it before.  I’m told the video will be posted on the district web site, and I’ll post a link when that happens.

The appalling failure to include Eliza Schaaf

Today I learned the appalling story of Eliza Schaaf, a 20-year-old woman with Down Syndrome who enrolled in an “Introduction to Ceramics” course at Southern Oregon University as a non-credit student (the university calls this “non-admitted status”) this Fall.

According to her mother, Deb, “Eliza has always been included with her typically developing peers throughout her educational career and through that has developed a very strong work ethic and sense of appropriateness in class. She thrives on watching and learning from others.”  But despite every apparent effort by her mother to prepare the university and assist in a smooth transition for Eliza,  administrators abruptly asked Eliza to withdraw from the course with just two sessions remaining.  Today, the southern Oregon newspaper Mail-Tribune reported that Laura O’Bryan, the University’s dean of students, upheld the decision in a letter to Eliza and her family:

In the letter, O’Bryan stated that Schaaf’s enrollment at SOU was a “novel situation” for the university.

“The non-admitted policy was not designed or intended to provide an avenue for participation to individuals who are not otherwise qualified for admission to SOU,” O’Bryan wrote.

I hereby wish to invoke the power of the Internets to show Southern Oregon University how wrong-headed they are by failing to see the benefits (let alone the moral imperative) of including a person with a disability. Stories abound of students with Down Syndrome, like Eliza, who are now attending college — Katie Apostolides of Massachusetts is one example (she’s been profiled in The New York Times and U.S. News & World Report); former prom king Zach Wincent of Illinois is another.  Last year, our own CSU-East Bay announced plans to create a college program for students with autism.

It’s happening, Dean Laura O’Bryan of Southern Oregon University — 35 years after the signing of IDEA, students who have experienced inclusive environments throughout their K-12 educations are now knocking on the doors of colleges like yours. Eventually, they’re going to gain access. Wouldn’t it be better if you figured out a way to welcome them?

Two days late but no less grateful

Tuesday was National Teacher Day; I meant to post this then but got busy and so now it’s two days late. It’s a tribute to all teachers, but especially the hardworking, dedicated and no-nonsense Marilyn Laidlaw, a P.E. teacher at James Denman Middle School. I got to know Marilyn in the wake of the JROTC controversy, after she reached out to me to take issue with some of my notions concerning P.E.

Since then, I’ve visited her class at Denman several times. When her 8th graders were learning gymnastics, she brooked no protest when I wanted to sit and watch and instead insisted I learn how to do a handstand (I did – wouldn’t you have?) More recently, I’ve visited her dance classes, which are a combination of typical 6th grade students and mainstreamed students with disabilities who are enrolled in a self-contained classroom at Denman.  I could say a lot more about the lovely interactions and mutual learning I’ve observed on these occasions, but I’d rather let the videos below speak for themselves. Watch all three — it’s a total time investment of maybe six minutes and well worth it – are these joyful learners or what?

Thanks, Marilyn, for everything you do. And thanks to all teachers who continue to believe in what they are doing and in the students they are teaching. I am so grateful.

Meeting recap: SpEd overshadowed by Cobb turmoil

Tonight’s meeting was another long one . . . items get backed up late in the year because of meeting cancellations during the holidays; we had our long-scheduled report from the CAC for Special Education, a great discusion about the group’s longstanding recommendations to the district, and a presentation from Special Education director Clare Davies about inclusive practices in the school district (as a way of commemorating National Inclusive Schools Week). It was gratifying to hear Commissioners request that the Superintendent and staff finally answer the long list of recommendations the CAC has been making for as long as I’ve been paying attention. We need to close the loop – either commit to implementing recommendations, describing how and when we’re going to get there, or definitively say we’re not going to implement particular recommendations, and describe why.

Still, I’m sorry to say that the important discussions of special education and inclusive schools were overshadowed by the big topic of the night: the continuing turmoil at Cobb Elementary School over the fate of the Montessori and General Education programs. Supporters of continuing a General Education (GE) program at Cobb mobilized again to show the school board how strongly they feel about keeping Cobb the way it is; there was also a contingent of families from the Montessori program. GE supporters wore orange stickers; Montessori supporters wore yellow baseball hats with red stickers (“Oh no!” one board member whispered to me when she saw the color-differentiated groupings. “This is supposed to be one school!”).

For the most part, comments were respectful, but anger definitely spilled over. It’s  clear that the GE supporters feel disrespected; and that they view the Montessori program as an alien presence rather than a welcoming or workable option for their students. From the Montessori side, there is clearly bewilderment at the backlash — the Montessori supporters view their program as so good and so necessary that it’s hard for them to understand that the GE families and staff view them as insensitive interlopers.

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Happy Inclusive Schools Week!

This week is National Inclusive Schools Week,  an annual event celebrating schools that welcome all children and families. Tonight, parents at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy hosted a showing of Including Samuel, a very moving account of a family’s determination to include Samuel, a young boy with a disability, in everything they do.

At tomorrow night’s Board of Education meeting, we will be observing National Inclusive Schools Week several ways: by honoring the teachers at the Presidio Child Development Center, the district’s only inclusive preschool program, and by hearing a report by our Special Education department on inclusive practices in SFUSD.  (We’re also issuing a commendation to Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, a great support organization.)  Finally, the SFUSD Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, a group of parent advocates working to improve SFUSD’s special education programs, will present its annual report and recommendations to the Board.

“Including Samuel” to be shown on PBS

In case you weren’t sure, let me be clear: I think inclusion is a civil rights issue just as I think same-sex marriage or racial equality are civil rights issues. I have a little home library of inclusion documentaries, but my favorite, and by far the most professional and compelling, is “Including Samuel,” produced by photojournalist Dan Habib to tell the story of his family’s work to include his youngest son Samuel in everything they do, every day. The three-minute trailer is below, but go to the film’s web site and watch the extended 12-minute trailer — it’s worth it. And then make sure you watch “Including Samuel” on PBS — it will be shown locally in the Bay Area on KQED Channel 9 at 6 p.m., Sunday Oct. 18.

My favorite speech in the whole movie is when Samuel’s mother looks right into the camera and says:

Now that I’m so close to a person with a disability I can’t believe that I was so blind to what people with disabilities in our community, in our country, in the world deal with every day. There was this huge civil rights issue, this huge amount of prejudice going on, and I never noticed it before.