From the superintendent

silva_spps_28-square_2.jpg

Dear Colleagues:

I still get goosebumps thinking about the teacher, parent and student testimonials I heard last week during a presentation to the Board of Education about our work to make Special Education services more equitable and rigorous. Their stories of success, of students learning like never before, were profound. This is all possible because of the commitment of all teachers, principals and paraprofessionals across the district. Thank you.

At the same time, I have been listening very closely to feedback on ways some people think we could improve this effort. Specifically, I understand that some staff are concerned that we closed the Learning Centers, where Level III students with Emotional Behavioral Disorders (EBD) spent the majority of their days.

Some of you may be surprised to learn that in dismantling the Learning Centers, we dismantled a system of racial segregation that:

  • Kept our most vulnerable students from learning to their full potential.
  • Prevented special education teachers and general education teachers from working together to support all students.
  • Caused schools with the highest concentrations of African American students to report nearly 0% proficiency.

What we did not dismantle is the opportunity for students who aren’t ready to be mainstreamed into general education classrooms to receive the personalized attention they need in smaller classroom settings. EBD Resource Rooms are available for as little or as much as the students need them. But when it makes sense, EBD students now have the opportunity to spend varying amounts of time each day in the General Education classroom with paraprofessional or co-teaching support.

I acknowledge that the transition to this new way of doing business in SPPS has been initially difficult. But I have to tell you that I believe deeply that this was the right thing to do.

We made similar changes about 15 years ago in our approach to Multilingual Education.

When SPPS first began implementing programs for English learners (EL) in 1975, elementary EL students spent their first two years in centers that were set apart from the mainstream classroom. As a result of this segregation, these students often were excluded socially and did not participate in general education recess, library, gym, music and other classes.

When I became EL Director in 1998, we started down a new path, which is now recognized nationally. Rather than learning English to prepare for learning academic content, EL students were placed in general education classrooms where they learned the language through content. By the end of my tenure as EL Director in 2006, 48% of SPPS EL students were proficient—higher than the statewide average (42%).

We’ve learned from that experience. I believe firmly that this same approach is the right strategy for helping special education students succeed.

I feel so lucky to lead a school district where our teachers and staff are excited to work together to interrupt systems and create meaningful change on behalf of our students. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Your very proud superintendent,

Silva Signature


 

Valeria S. Silva