Approximately 2,500 students with disabilities may be affected by the consolidation of underutilized schools. For these students and their families, this change can be stressful, as it may present a unique set of challenges.
To prepare proactively for this transition, CPS is connecting with families in a variety of ways, including hosting parent meetings at every school that is proposed for closure.
“We ask parents to tell us about their children,” said Rebecca Clark, Director of Student Support for the Office of Diverse Learners Supports and Services. “We ask them how their kids communicate and what motivates them. We ask them what they’re concerns are about a new school, and encourage them to help us create strategies that will make the transition easier.”
CPS also held a recent Tele-Town Hall for parents of children with disabilities, and has begun a phone banking process to contact all of these families individually.
“First, we want to make sure that they understand what’s going on with their child,” said Rebecca Clark. “Then we try to provide them with resources and address their concerns. We’re basically asking them to tell us what we can do to help.”
According to Clark, the response to these calls has been very positive.
“Parents thank us for reaching out, and say that they didn’t expect to receive such individualized attention for their child,” she said. “And by the end of the conversation, most say that they are feeling much more comfortable with the idea of changing schools.”
In addition to this personalized support, CPS has focused much attention on ensuring that the logistical and staffing needs of children with disabilities will be met by welcoming schools. All equipment used by these students has now been identified, and will soon be transferred to their new schools. During the summer, teachers in these schools will receive training on how to effectively use this equipment.
“Delivering these items is just the first step,” said Rebecca Clark. “We need to make sure that teachers know how to use them. If a non-verbal student has a device that is his only means of communication, it’s not enough to make sure he has the device in his new classroom. We need to make sure that his teacher understands exactly how that device works.”
Welcoming school teachers who will be working with cluster classrooms – groups of students with more intensive needs – will receive an additional six days of training during the summer – four days on curriculum and behavioral supports and two days on the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), a nationally-used education tool for nonverbal students who communicate by pointing to pictures. Meanwhile, students from these classrooms will be provided with what are called Social Stories – short books filled with text and photographs about their new school.
“It’s literally a storybook about everything they will see and experience at their welcoming school,” said Rebecca Clark. “We encourage parents to go through it with their children regularly in order to ease the stress of transition.”
CPS feels strongly that disability awareness should go beyond the teachers in special needs classrooms. Therefore, ALL staff members from ALL welcoming schools will receive special needs training one week prior to the start of school.
“It’s not just about special education teachers,” said Rebecca Clark. “To have a positive culture and climate within the school, everyone needs to understand the needs and behaviors of students with disabilities.”
In order to accurately educate each group of adults, the training sessions will be customized to the incoming special needs population at each school.
“Some welcoming schools will be servicing children with autism for the first time,” said Rebecca Clark. “Others will be modifying their curriculum in a way that is new to them. We want to give each school as much specific information as possible so that they can prepare and plan accordingly.”
Through these trainings, parent meetings, and additional planned outreach, including meet and greet opportunities between parents and special education teachers, CPS is intensely focused on ensuring that children with disabilities have a successful transition to their welcoming schools.
“Our goal is that on Day 1 of the 2013-14 school year, these children have all of the resources and supports they need to make them ready to learn,” said Rebecca Clark. “From parents and staff to administrators and teachers, everyone is working very hard to make sure that happens.”