.Nameplate February 2013 Issue
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‘Not Simply One More Thing’    

 

 Amy Jo Bailey
BY AMY JO BAILEY


I recently visited an 8-year-old student with autism from my school district who attended school in a self-contained program outside the district. His classroom was busy with purposeful activity as a group of professionals worked hard to serve the six or seven students in the classroom, all on the autism spectrum.

While I was impressed by the professionalism of the program and the expertise of staff members, I could not help thinking I wanted to take the student back to our school district. I had brought along one of our speech and language pathologists to get her opinion about moving this youngster back to his home school in our rural, 2,200-student district in Central New York.

We observed the student and then headed to the parking lot together, already brainstorming about what we would need to do to prepare for this student. Would he need an aide? Would he need assistive technology? Which classroom would be best for him? I knew I had brought the right person with me to discuss the possibilities. Instead of looking at obstacles, she already was planning how we could meet his education and developmental needs in our school.

Long-Held Beliefs
A mind-set that embraces inclusive education for all is not a stretch for me. I stepped into my first classroom in 1996 in Collier County, Fla., where classrooms were fully inclusive. I believe in inclusion and see how it benefits all students — yet I am well-aware that not everyone in education shares this vision.

As we work in the Chittenango schools to achieve an inclusive environment, I can readily see the challenges of mind-set and culture. I see the fear of change. I see the hard work, planning and effort that take place in our schools. I see teachers and administrators with the same core beliefs about educating students with disabilities.

In these times, school districts are facing great changes with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the assessments related to those learning standards. Teacher evaluation systems are being revamped with emphasis on student-achievement data. And the list goes on. In the minds of school staff members, perhaps I am asking them to do “one more thing.” But it is not simply one more thing.

A Team Requirement
What I would not have anticipated is how much effort and energy would go into creating a vision and changing a cultural mind-set within our organization. The pace at which I want to move and the pace the organization can tolerate do not always match. But I cannot run down the field without my team, so I slow myself down and reflect, then back up and make sure we are together. We share, laugh, cry, watch an inspirational documentary, read a book, create professional development around our students’ needs and attend training ourselves.

The team we have here trying to create an inclusive place for our students with disabilities to attend school works hard and believes in doing what is best for kids. We don’t always agree on what that is. We don’t always agree on what that looks like. We do agree that this work is worth it.


Amy Jo Bailey is director of special education in the Chittenango School District in Chittenango, N.Y. E-mail: abailey@chittenangoschools.org

 

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