Monday, January 7, 2008

Educating Students with Special Needs

Today I heard Julie Fabrocini, the principal of the CHIME Charter School in Los Angeles speak at Vanguard Classical School. Julie was at Vanguard speaking to the staff because Vanguard is largely based on the CHIME model.

The CHIME school provides a co-teaching model where there is both a general education and Special Education certified teacher in the classroom. Students with moderate and severe needs are included in the classroom. For severe needs students with a full-time paraprofessional, that adult may or may not provide services with just that particular student. All adults in the classroom (teachers, parents, paras) are encouraged to work with all students. The co-teaching model has different forms, but the basic philosophy is to teach in a variety of ways, largely kinestic, in order to address different learning styles and abilities.

Julie also talked about some of the criticism CHIME received when the general education community found out they would literally accept all students, regardless of their disability. This included students who would otherwise be at a center-based program, or a "special school" for kids with similar disabilities. At CHIME, and Vanguard Classical, these students are included in the classroom. Vanguard's Special Ed rate is twice that of the Aurora Public School District, the sponsor of their charter. Some people in general education believe severe needs students should only be served in center-based programs.

One of the struggles that has faced Vanguard Classical this year is that their charter application proposed this co-teaching model with a Special Ed certified teacher in each classroom alongside the general ed teacher. During the final phase of their charter contract negotiations, the district required the charter school to use district services for all Special Ed. This was a complete 180 from the original intent of the charter school and a central piece to its educational program design. There is ongoing discussion between both parties as they attempt to figure out what's best for the students and each other.

It's refreshing to hear educators talk about educating unique students based on what the student's needs are rather than what fits within the budget or what accommodates the schedule of available staff members. From different comments made today by the staff members in attendance, it's clear that the leadership and staff at Vanguard Classical truly believes in educating all students and they're doing everything they can to make sure all students learn!

1 comment:

Doug Hering said...

There was an interesting article in a recent Education Week about a school that does something similar with English Language Learners. They put learners of all levels into a class room. Teachers modify assignments for each learning level. This takes a lot more time, but the preliminary results are that students learn English better and students also learn to accept one another better. I think this is something that charters could explore and further develop.