Laura Bratt Q&A: Special Education in SRVUSD
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Because of my limited experience with San Ramon Valley Unified School District's Special Education programs and services, I reached out to and had in-depth conversations with Special Day Class (SDC) and Resource teachers, para-educators, and parents of Individual Education Plan (IEP) students in our district. Each conversation left me with a stronger understanding of our programs, as well as insight into the depth of our services here at SRVUSD and how hard everyone is working to create a supportive educational environment for our diverse population of students. While there are opportunities for growth and hands are tied due to funding, the desire to do what is best for our students is clear. It is our District leadership’s job to support initiatives and create policy that sets the foundation for the hard work to be truly effective.
Q1: Within the context of limited budget & resources, how would you prioritize inclusion of children with special needs into the general education curriculum — please give specifics and details on how the pragmatics would work and what you envision?
Laura Bratt: I would recommend that our district support initiatives for more meaningful and fully supported inclusive learning models, perhaps by creating a pilot program — one at each site level — that incorporates Universal Design for Learning, SEL Communities of Practice, Cultural and Linguistic responsiveness, trauma-informed, and school climate strategies so that we can begin the process of integrating our neuro-diverse communities in a thoughtful and fully supported way, learning best-practices and reducing the fear and stigma around change in order to truly do what is best for all of our students. In order to do this, we have to look at SpEd funding differently, increasing our teacher to student ratios and ensuring that the full needs of the neuro-diverse child are met while in this immersive environment. We also need to create opportunities to bring our communities together so that our stakeholders can fully understand the value of inclusive practices and how each of us can support it.
With our IEP and Resource students, I believe we need to provide response to intervention practices for all students who need it, when they need it — regardless of their designation, and especially in TK-2nd before the academic outcomes show the level of learning difficulties necessary to trigger an IEP. I believe we can provide cost-effective early intervention in an inclusive and individualized way by training our TK-2nd teachers on universal design for learning strategies and response to intervention methods as well as providing District funded para-educators to be able to support students who need extra help. Giving all students the opportunity to gain skills in the ways that they learn, rather than waiting for the outcomes to show that they are in need of an IEP will not only save money down the road, but will allow a certain number of students to avoid needing IEP designation, greatly reducing the levels of frustration and anxiety our students, families, educators, and school-sites feel.
Q2: How will you make sure that the voices of the special needs community are heard and taken seriously?
Laura Bratt: I believe that we have to provide and support an empowered platform for our Special Education community, creating supportive and transparent accountability pathways. Our SpEd families have additional burdens and as a district, we need to recognize that and reach out to them rather than waiting for them to initiate services, designation, etc. Our school district has to provide and support comprehensive assessment without our families feeling like it is a fight. We have to prioritize early intervention, GenEd professional development on universal response to learning and response to intervention strategies, as well as put systems in place that allow our families and school-sites to work together to support each individual child. I believe this can be done with prioritizing funding and support for our TK-2nd grade teams, creating an inclusive pilot program that can uplift all, and continuing to fund valuable admin positions such as our Special Needs Liaison so that our families have someone who can advocate for them and help navigate the systems and policies in place.
Q3: What will you do to support ongoing training and professional development for those working with special ed in our district? What would you do to help our district provide evidence based and current modalities to help our students access the curriculum?
Laura Bratt: I would prioritize universal designs for learning and response to intervention professional development for our GenEd teachers, especially those in Elementary. I would also look at the professional development offered to our para-educators. These positions are very poorly paid and difficult roles to be in, creating a high turnover rate. I would look at ways to increase their wages and offer them incentives to stay, such as truly supported professional development - giving them paid PD days throughout the year as well as providing day-care for their own children so that they can actually attend the training.
I would fully support our entire SpEd team — admin to teachers to paras to parents to student — by ensuring that our district prioritizes being proactive in services rather than waiting for the outcomes to dictate the need. I would ensure that our SDC student to staff ratios allow for every student to be successful and every teacher to do their job effectively.
With the idea of exploring a fully inclusive SDC program, I would lead policies that support creating a framework within this pilot program that ensures comprehensive training on academic and behavioral teaching models such as Universal Design for Learning, SEL Communities of Practice, Cultural and Linguistic responsiveness, trauma-informed, and school climate strategies. I would then recommend that our admin, teachers, and staff share their experiences and training with our other school-sites so that we can take full advantage of the real-world experience in the successes and challenges with this pilot program in order to facilitate integration strategies for all school-sites with all levels of needs.