Arlington Special Education PTA
APS Education Center, Room 101 A/B
1426 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, VA 22207
December 11, 2017
SEPTA Business and President’s Report:
- Minutes from November 2017 SEPTA meeting were presented for approval, and approved.
- SEPTA President Caroline Levy introduced APS Superintendent, Patrick Murphy, APS staff, and SEPTA Board members in attendance, and provided a brief financial and fundraising update.
- We were looking for 300 members this year, but so far have only 120. Don’t forget to join SEPTA!
- Upcoming events include Unstuck and On Target program on January 6.
- Volunteers are needed, especially for the very popular Transportation Breakfast.
- A new SEPTA postcard prepared by the Arlington Program for Employment Preparedness (PEP) is now available in Spanish, as part of SEPTA’s outreach to the Hispanic community.
Student panelists introduced themselves and shared where they are in school and what their interests and activities are:
- Ben Busey, Washington-Lee Senior, on swim team & plays basketball
- John Best, Yorktown Junior, on cross-country and crew teams
- Nathaniel Kampeas, HB Woodlawn Senior, likes playing piano
- Justin Boatner, PEP, likes rowing
- Huan Vuong, NOVA Community College (formerly at Wakefield), typing on a Bluetooth keyboard – enjoys college and also enjoys being with his friends.
SEPTA President, Caroline Levy, asked the panelists, What are some ways your school has done a good job at supporting your unique needs? Panelist responses included the following:
- Small group testing
- 1-on-1 meetings and tests
- Extra time on projects, assignments, and tests
- One student takes an instructional studies class for organization. He is part of a countywide autism program and takes a social skills class.
- Another student has an instructional studies period, which really helps with his work and organization. He has extended time on tests as well, which helps with his achievement.
- Justin studies culinary arts, and PEP helps him access his community classes and internships. The program helps him advocate for accommodations in his internships, such as not standing for long periods of time. He has multiple internships at the Arlington Greenhouse and the Sugar Shack. The greenhouse is part of the Career Center; they grow micro greens and sell them to restaurants. Justin gets a half-dozen doughnuts for free every time he works at the Sugar Shack!
- Huan reports that his school, Northern Virginia Community College, accepts his form of communication, and actually offers more tools but he hasn’t had to use those options yet.
- Bonnie Grace, Huan’s communication partner, said that Huan had asked her to describe the club he has started at NoVA. His club is called Aware, and its focus is just to be aware of students who are not like you on campus. Everyone is included. A huge population signed a petition. Huan created the club from the ground up. He had to write the petition, have a meeting with the Student Council liaison, get at least five student signatures, then get more signatures, and write the constitution and bylaws.
- Classes Huan has taken include Math 1 and Math 2, covering statistics, geometry, calculus, and more, and also English composition.
Ms. Levy asked whether there were other things the students wished their schools and programs could do or that they feel they need, and whether the classes they take are challenging enough for them. Student responses included the following:
- Some are, some aren’t. I make sure to advocate for myself, going to the teacher during office hours or after school to get extra help.
- All the resources are in place for me, but I have trouble advocating for myself.
- It’s pretty good the way it is.
- Only little things I would change. We’re at the Arlington Career Center, the epicenter of all resources. If there’s something we need at PEP, it’s really easy to get to it. I need a heightened table in culinary; we went to our workshop and they are working on something. It’s really turning out to be wonderful. Only thing I would change is that I heard PEP isn’t going to Outdoor Lab anymore and that’s something I would want to bring back. It’s the only thing that is separating us from technology. Giving us the ability to have some fresh air, to experience nature in its prime. It’s a good way for PEP students to understand what is going on.
- Huan says he is well accommodated at NoVA. Someone fights for my rights. SPARC is amazing. Most clubhouses are different but they really let us design what we want. Academically challenging.
- Ms. Levy and Bonnie Grace explained that SPARC is a collaboration between Therapeutic Recreation and the County, basically an adapted resource club. There is a new chapter in Arlington, but it is not affiliated with APS. They have a book club, roundtable discussions, lots of different groups. Most other SPARC clubhouses are a little more laid back. This one is like walking into a coffee house on a college campus and there’s heated debates everywhere.
Ms. Levy asked, what’s next for you all?
- Ben: I plan to go to college and major in physical therapy. Favorite school right now is George Mason, but I’ve looked at other schools too.
- John: I’d like to go to college for mechanical engineering or chemical engineering.
- Nathaniel: I’m going to college. My top choice is a college that has a special program where you study classics. After college, I don’t really know what I want to do. But I am always willing to pursue my interests. I am reading a bunch. Really interested in philosophy. Reading Kant and Nietzsche. Might want to be a philosophy teacher. Really interested in that.
- Justin: Interested in culinary arts, or I might change to political science. Feel more comfortable doing speeches and talking about what is going on and what we need to do.
- Huan: Obviously I am in college. I want to remain an advocate to help improve the lives of others.
Superintendent Chat*:[*Note from SEPTA Secretary, Maria Votsch: Sincere appreciation goes to SEPTA Member and friend Tauna Szymanski, who graciously shared her notes from the Superintendent Chat in order to supplement my own. Thank you!]
APS Staff in attendance included:
- Patrick Murphy, APS Superintendent
- Tara Nattrass, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning
- Paul Jamelske, Director of Special Education
Superintendent Murphy began by recognizing Reid Goldstein (School Board member), Kelly Mountain and Kathleen Donovan (Parent Resource Center), and Colleen Koval (Office of Special Education), who were all in attendance. He said if we don’t get to all the questions, we will respond to them and you guys can post them on the web.
Globally, APS is addressing a number of issues through the 2017-2018 Action Plan. This is a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) year. After the budget is adopted, APS will be addressing the CIP. Enrollment increases are continuing. As of the September 30 count, APS had not eclipsed 27,000 (the 1963 high), but as of October 5 the count was 27,500, the highest ever. The official Finance number, on which state money is based, is the September 30 number, but it fluctuates over time.
Over the summer, APS combined the Department of Student Services and the Department of Instruction, and we are seeing the benefits of that. Superintendent Murphy asked that the community continue to be patient as people adapt to new roles and responsibilities. He noted that Paul Jamelske has shared some information indicating that APS is increasing the numbers of inclusive settings and reducing its self-contained numbers. APS is also making staffing changes to support students with disabilities and other needs, including increasing staffing for English for Speakers of Other Languages/High-Intensity Language Training (ESOL-HILT) students. There is still work to be done, but progress has been made. In March they are leaving the current facility and moving to the Syphax Education Center.
SEPTA President Caroline Levy shifted the discussion to the first question, which relates to students with disabilities (SWDs) who are also English Learners (ELs). ELs may be overrepresented. Why do we have this problem and what can we do to fix it?
Paul Jamelske responded that it is true we do have a higher than expected percentage of English Learners identified as students with disabilities. For about 6 years now at the secondary level (6th – 12th grades), we have had some ESOL-HILT teachers supporting dually-identified students. Those positions started through a federal grant that was aimed at secondary students and then it became engrained in the school system. After learning last year that there is also an overidentification at the elementary level, they have taken some of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grant funding to create three new positions at the elementary school level. They are called EHRTs, and are three really talented ESOL-HILT teachers who also have experience working with SWDs.
Since the summer they have been looking into the identification process and the supports that need to be in place once students are identified. They have identified schools where there is greater need based on higher concentrations of English Learners also identified as having a disability. If students do need support, APS tries to make sure they are receiving services in as inclusive a setting as possible. The goal is they may not need support by the time they get to secondary school.
Ms. Levy moved to the second set of questions, relating to segregated school environments and inclusion. Some of the questions submitted to SEPTA suggest there is still a long way to go for the students who spend 80% or more of their day in secluded environments. When can we expect to see an improvement in those numbers?
Superintendent Murphy responded that Paul Jamelske has pulled the latest numbers, some of which have not yet been published. He said APS has made some steps in the right direction. From 2011 to 2012 we had 51% of students in inclusive environments; recent 2017-2018 information gets us almost to 67%. He agrees it is his advocacy job to do that. Some schools are doing a nice job: how do we grow that? Need to make sure teachers are prepared and have to give them professional development, and talk to our principals. Noting there was a question about Stratford, he said that his office both advocates for and supports providing Stratford students with services back at their home schools.
Ms. Levy mentioned Patrick Henry as one shining example of successful inclusion. Superintendent Murphy says Jamestown is another good example, but we need to build the culture more widely.
Mr. Jamelske shared more information about the indicator data used to measure school performance in special education: questions 5(a) (how inclusive a school system is) and 5(b) (how NON-inclusive the system is). The information is typically on an 18-month delay before it is published. Special education data for 2016-2017 will not be published until some time in 2019. Informal indicator 5a data based on last week’s numbers is at 66.9%. This is not where we want to be, but it is a team effort and represents significant growth over 6 years ago. If you go back even further to 2010 or 2009, the numbers were even less progressive. Every year we are making incremental change. The trend is moving in the right direction. Maybe need to nudge it quicker.
Tara Nattrass noted that APS has created the Department of Teaching and Learning, which has done quite a bit of work over the past several months to build a professional learning framework that will support the overall goals of connecting, creating, and innovating as a school division. In the Connection bucket, one of the four areas of focus is inclusion. Staff need to work on mindsets, specially designed instruction, co-teaching, and other best practices in our school system.
Ms. Levy asked how many self-contained classrooms there are in APS.
Mr. Jamelske responded that it is very hard to count. There are several programs that have historically been self-contained. There are three Functional Life Skills (FLS) classrooms at the elementary level. Each middle and high school has an FLS class. For the Multi-Intervention Program for Students with Autism (MIPA), there are 9 at the elementary level, 2 at the middle school level, 2 at the high school, and 5 mini-MIPA pre-K classes. Within those programs the classrooms have historically been self-contained. We are working carefully with teachers and autism specialists to break down walls and self-containedness specifically for the MIPA program. At Jamestown, there are several students in the Jamestown MIPA class who spend parts of the day in the general ed class. APS is taking a look at each student and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to see if those students can spend parts of their day in the general ed setting. As we are trying to become more progressive and inclusive, we’ve realized that the self-contained model is not the best model for every student. Trying to figure out how students can have more access to general curriculum. We are taking a look at each self-contained program to ask if it really needs to be self-contained.
Ms. Levy asked, for those students who are moving out of the self-contained class and into the general ed setting, what kind of training are those teachers getting?
Dr. Nattras responded that there are several resources, including special education coordinators and several specialists at the district level. There are behavior specialists, and other teams of folks who can provide an individual teacher with support. Some specialists have been assigned to individual schools. They have just received training today on how to provide specially designed instruction in the general ed classroom. There is a focus on building capacity in the Department and in schools, with a mix of professional learning classes and 1:1 coaching and support. Mr. Jamelske added that it is a coaching model. Specialists model some direct intervention with students, trying to build capacity in schools to eventually fade the coaching. A long-term process is expected.
An audience member asked, What about classrooms that are not technically self-contained programs but are made up almost entirely of students with special needs — classes like Special Ed English or Special Ed Math? Some high school classes have 100% students with IEPs. Those aren’t really general ed classes any more. There’s a very large population at the secondary level we haven’t addressed here.
Mr. Jamelske responded that one of the things schools are being asked to do is to look at the master schedule. For English 9, typically we have English 9 and English 9 Intensified. Sometimes there are more students in English 9 Intensified than in English 9. But English 9 shouldn’t just have students with disabilities. There should be a distribution of students across all the classes.
Superintendent Murphy added that he would like to follow up with the audience member about it, as it sounds like a master schedule issue. He would imagine the principals will say we need more staffing. Dr. Nattrass stated that the goal is 30-40%, maximum, for the number of students with IEPs in a classroom. Another audience member noted, however, that Virginia guidance for reporting purposes says to count a classroom as a regular classroom if there is even a single student without an IEP present.
An audience member asked, for families who have tried to get their students included more in the regular education setting and have faced resistance, are they going to have an easier time this year in their IEP meetings? Mr. Jamelske responded that the status quo should not be taken for granted. At every IEP meeting, the team should be asking whether the status quo should stay or whether additional inclusive opportunities should be explored. That said, every IEP is unique. He would encourage continued collaboration between families and staff. If there is not agreement, he suggests the best thing to do is hit pause, take a look at the student and school, and maybe come back to the table in a week. He would encourage families and schools to continue working at it.
Ms. Levy moved to the next question. Noting that there are plans to move the Stratford Program to Reed next year — where it will be even more self-contained — before moving it eventually to the new Wilson School site, she asked what the APS vision was for the Stratford program.
Superintendent Murphy responded that Dr. Gerry and her team do a very nice job with the students there, and it is a safe and small environment. The program is in a comfortable space for now, but the ultimate goal is for students to transfer to their neighborhood schools when they are ready. Not to force them to move, but to develop strategies to get local schools ready for these students to come back. He invites families to share ideas and opportunities to get more students back into their neighborhood schools. One audience member shared that a lot of parents have consciously made a choice to send their children to Stratford, and would be very unhappy to be forced to move back; Superintendent Murphy reiterated that he did not say they would be forced to move, but he was stating a vision, and he is looking for ways to build parents’ confidence in how their children can transition successfully back to their neighborhood schools. They just hired a new transportation planner; transportation would be one aspect they would seriously consider.
Mr. Jamelske said that he was really impressed with the Stratford Friends program that exists between HB and Stratford. It seems very similar to Best Buddies. He spoke to Dr. Gerry about a month ago about what she is going to do about that when Stratford spends the year at Reed. She plans to collaborate with HB to see if they can continue to have HB students and Stratford students maintain their relationship during the year Stratford is at Reed. Au audience member suggested that this might be an opportunity to double down and have other schools invest in Best Buddies opportunities with Stratford while it is at Reed.
SEPTA President-Elect, Janna Dressel, asked for an update on the Arlington Tiered System of Support (ATSS). Dr. Nattrass responded that APS is on track. Intervention tools and supports, combined with teacher training, are already in place for literacy; next up will be math and social-emotional interventions. They are also building the capability to track progress over time using an online system.
Graduation Rates and Testing for Students with Disabilities
In response to a question about graduation rates and testing, Superintendent Murphy stated that there have been some very recent changes in diploma requirements for the Class of 2022 forward (starting with students entering 9th grade next fall).
Mr. Jamelske explained that there used to be a modified standard diploma. 2015-2016 was the first year the modified diploma was no longer available. APS saw a dip in the federal graduation indicator (FGI) that year, as did the state. Last year, there was a 64% FGI rate for students with disabilities. While this seems lower than what one might expect, it is based on a 4 year period, i.e., when students enter 9th grade, who graduates in 4 years, minus who is left. In some instances, students may be pursuing another degree that is recognized by the state but not federal guidelines.
Responding to a question about Virginia Alternate Assessment Program (VAAP) rates, Mr. Jamelske noted that the VAAP is a noun. We don’t “VAAP” students, but rather we administer SOLs and VAAP. APS is supposed to maintain a 1% cap on using VAAP alternative assessment testing: in other words, no more than 1% of SWD should take the VAAP. Virtually every school division, including APS, exceeds that. It is a valid assessment, but we don’t want to be over-identifying students. If a student is not identified with a significant cognitive disability, they should not be taking the VAAP. Mr. Jamelske added that it seems students sometimes are taking the VAAP who don’t have a significant cognitive disability. APS is issuing guidance to IEP teams that if they are considering the VAAP, the school psychologist has to certify the student has a significant cognitive disability. They are looking into having a school psychologist sit in on IEP meetings to help avoid over-identification. The decision would be based on assessment and evaluation information in the student’s file. They have been identifying staff who have local educational agency (LEA) representative training (Dr. Koval leads that), to make sure there is consistent practice and understanding. We have a revised standard operating procedures manual. It is marked draft because it is a continuing work in progress, a living document.
Six-Year Evaluation of Special Education Services
Ms. Levy asked what is going on with the plan for the six-year evaluation of special education services? Mr. Jamelske responded that there is a request for proposals going out in the spring. The previous program evaluation is guiding many of the questions being posed in the RFP. ASEAC members have been involved in that effort. Caroline added that she would love to see the issue of teacher morale included in that evaluation. One of questions that was put to her by a staff member was about Medicaid billing for support staff, who are now drowning in paperwork. Would love to see that issue included in the evaluation since Medicaid billing is new since the last evaluation six years ago.
Inconsistencies Between Schools
An audience member asked whether we could look at the question about the differences between South Arlington and North Arlington schools? In her role running the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) support group, she gets a lot of questions, and it is very clear there are far more issues in North Arlington than in South Arlington. Ms. Levy noted that it appears there are some serious stonewalling issues in certain schools from school leadership.
Superintendent Murphy responded that he believes the easiest way to address these issues is head-on. He has no problem bringing this forward in saying how issues with behavior are an issue in some parts of county. Part of this is raising awareness. Maybe we can look at incident reports. Maybe we ask principals if they also think it is true. He said he has heard this concern over time but does not have a sense of whether it is true or not. His promise to us is that he will bring it forward and have a conversation with principals.
Another audience member reported that she did a lot of research and put the question out to multiple listserves, and got a lot of feedback on the North vs. South Arlington question. There is a perception that South Arlington is more inclusive than North Arlington, and better at providing reading support.
In closing, SEPTA President Caroline Levy noted that if you are not on the SEPTA listserve, you may miss out on the follow-up to the questions that we get. Please join!