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Stakeholders meet to improve service to students, families in special education

December 21, 2009

More than 100 parents, community partners, educators and administrators involved in special education turned out for a major stakeholders meeting at the Memorial Coliseum to take the next step in improving the Portland Public Schools special education program, now called Integrated Student Support.

Integrated Student Support began work last spring to improve service to families and the approximately 6,400 students the department serves.

In a first-ever effort at PPS, Pat Steinburg, a speech pathologist with a special and general education leadership background, visited 24 schools throughout the school district and met face-to-face with stakeholders in individual and group interviews. She listened to administrators, educators, specialists, parents, the assistive technology team, teachers on special assignment, the High School System design team, representatives from organizations that represent teachers, para-educators and others.

Steinburg compiled feedback and crunched the data she collected, creating a snapshot of what is working and what isn’t working for students and families in the program. The audit is helping ISS focus on areas where change is needed.

The stakeholders’ meeting, held Dec. 9 and 10 and led by a professional facilitator, was the next step. The 108 stakeholders divided into table teams to surface strengths and weaknesses in the ISS program and brainstorm solutions.

“I found the meeting very exciting,” says Joanne Mabbott, director of Integrated Student Support. “Everyone has a different experience. We learned a lot about how the ISS program serves our students and families and also about how it fails to serve.”

Themes surfaced by the stakeholders mirrored those collected by Steinburg:

  • Dissatisfaction around inclusion of students in general education.
  • The need to increase time and opportunities for general and special educators to collaboratively develop individual student programs and more access to para-educator time.
  • The need for consistent use of schoolwide intervention plans/programs.
  • The need to improve safety as well as early detection that results in early interventions for students with learning/behavioral issues.
  • The challenge of serving all students well, given the mix of students and their range of challenges.
  • The need to increase the continuum of program options for students in special education, including those with cognitive disabilities, behavioral disabilities and autism spectrum disorder.

Feedback from the stakeholders meeting was positive.

“The event was described as ‘worthy’ and ‘meaningful,’ ” Mabbott says. “One person told me that they feel for the first time in a long time that something actually is going to change.”

Integrated Student Support will compile and distribute a report from the meeting by the end of January and then meet again with those who attended the stakeholders’ session. At that meeting, participants can join an action panel or an advisory panel that assists the action panels. Each action group will choose one of the top proposals for improvement and then will be charged with working with Portland Public Schools to implement the proposal.

For more details and to post comments, go to the Integrated Student Support blog. You can also contact the department at 503-916-3152.

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