Candidate for San Mateo County School Superintendent – June 2018
First and foremost, all students deserve a robust, relevant and engaging general education program regardless of special need or disability. When students do require additional learning and behavioral supports as reflected in 504 or IEP plans, those supports should be evidence-based and delivered as close to the classroom as possible.
When general and special education teachers work together as a team in support of students’ needs, and the entire learning community upholds a culture of high expectations for every student, students will achieve at higher levels. Within a cohesive and multi tiered system of support, schools are best equipped to provide a high quality learning environment for all students.
As Associate Superintendent of Student Services I oversee all special education programs within SMCOE student programs. This includes Infant and Early Start, Early Childhood Education Preschool, Related Services, K-12 Special Education and special education services within the Court and Community School program. Within each of these settings, our expert and deeply experienced administrators, teachers, and para educators provide our students with high quality and specialized support.
Our Student Services team, in collaboration with our outstanding Early Learning staff, is already implementing a redesign of SMCOE’s Early Childhood Education Center to operate as a fully inclusive and diverse high quality early start and preschool program. We have engaged stakeholders from across the early learning community to help us shape our vision and are excited to implement this vision for a thriving early childhood education center.
SMCOE can play a significant role in increasing the special education workforce, help fill gaps in services for smaller school districts in specialized roles such as school nurses and physical therapists, and provide administrator and educator training in innovative family engagement strategies, educator wellness, and social emotional learning, among other topics applicable to an aligned and cohesive special education program.
1. If elected, what is the one thing you will do to help get better outcomes for all special needs kids in San Mateo County?
One of the most important education issues in San Mateo County is attracting and retaining high quality teachers and paraeducators who have expertise, experience and passion in special education. Our schools are facing teacher and support staff shortages that are approaching crisis levels. Not only do we have fewer people entering the profession overall, but with the high costs of housing and childcare in San Mateo County, it is that much more difficult to hire well qualified classroom staff.
As Associate Superintendent overseeing County Office of Education-operated special education programs, I deeply understand the importance of a fully staffed and well qualified team supporting the needs of our students. Staff shortages, including a lack of substitute teachers, seriously impact a school’s ability to get better outcomes for students.
If elected as County Superintendent of Schools I will continue to prioritize SMCOE’s efforts to address the teacher shortage but would add an additional priority of attracting young people into the special education field. I will work closely with our legislators to adopt smart policies around teacher credentialing and to partner with our community colleges to provide internship and practicum opportunities within our special education classrooms.
Additionally, I will support programs that promote educator wellness as a strategy to realize better outcomes for our students with special needs. Our special educators work hard to personalize support for every student which can be demanding physically, mentally, and emotionally. With a robust focus on mindfulness, health, and wellness for staff, we can support and retain great teachers and paraeducators while creating mindful and trauma informed spaces within our classrooms.
2. What is the biggest gap that you see in programs for special needs kids?
One of the biggest gaps I see in programs for kids with special needs is the varying expertise of staff in providing and managing student behavior supports, especially in inclusive settings. Behaviors of students with special needs may range from psychiatric or mental health disorders to behavioral challenges to any number of manifestations caused by a physiological condition. Regardless of the behavior, a classroom managed through a positive behavior support system is more likely to be successful in supporting every student.
Not all teachers or classroom staff receive the necessary training and support to meet a student’s unique behavior challenges in a positive way that keeps all students included and focused on learning. When the response to behavior is more punitive in approach, there is a greater likelihood that a student may be removed from the classroom and then caught in a cycle of negative interactions and attention. This is not an easy dynamic to untangle and can become the root cause of a student’s poor academic outcomes.
To improve and address these types of challenges, we must ensure that our teacher and administrator training programs adequately support learning techniques in positive behavior systems, restorative practices, and other trauma-informed approaches. With school leaders who are confident in the benefits of these approaches and by providing the resources that provide effective teacher training and support, we can continue to prioritize positive school climate as a fundamental necessity to the success of all students.
3. In your current position, what one accomplishment has made the most impact on special needs kids or adults?
While I oversee the County Office of Education-operated special education programs and am proud of the innovative work we are doing to build more inclusive settings, implement UNIQUE curriculum, and fold in educator wellness and mindfulness practices into our school culture, the broadest impact of my educational vision for students with special needs and the adults who support them is through our countywide work to ensure safe and supportive schools.
I have prioritized training for teachers and administrators across the county that focuses on improving school climate and culture. This includes professional development sessions on the impact of trauma on learning, restorative practices and alternatives to suspension, cultural responsiveness, growth mindset, chronic absenteeism, suicide prevention, and how to better support LGBTQ and gender fluid students. I restructured SMCOE’s implementation of Special Olympics for improved outreach and helped bring partners into our county like Beyond Differences and InClassToday. By providing training and support to our education leaders and school staff, we can better ensure that every child can learn in a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment.
4. What do you see as the role of the County relative to the individual districts for special needs kids today and what will change under your leadership?
We are fortunate to have an active, engaged, and highly knowledgeable partner in the San Mateo Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). The SELPA staffs a small, but mighty team of experts who dedicate themselves to serving our districts with special needs populations. We are uniquely positioned to partner in numerous ways with our SELPA in strengthening programs across the county.
In my current role, I oversee the division that operates Related Services, a department comprised of a variety of educator experts who travel across the county to serve the unique needs of students with special needs. These experts include teachers of the visually impaired, teachers who work with students on orientation and mobility, teachers for students who are deaf and hard of hearing, audiologists, adapted physical education teachers, and speech and language pathologists. Students who are served by Related Services providers are enabled to fully benefit in both their general education and special education programs. This year the County collaborated with the SELPA to fill a need for teachers of the orthopedically impaired by jointly supporting four county teachers to receive an added authorization in orthopedic impairment.
While some districts can provide services without support from the County Office of Education, others rely on the COE to meet the needs of all students. In this way, the County Office of Education-operated programs add great value to addressing equity. It is my priority to be responsive and able to meet district needs as they arise. I am fully invested in providing the best education to every child whether in a county-operated classroom or in supporting our 23 San Mateo County school districts.
For many years, the County Office of Education has operated an early childhood education program serving the needs of children with special needs, birth to five years old. Under my leadership the Student Services division is currently working with community stakeholders to create a model early childhood education program that provides a fully inclusive, diverse and high quality early education program. The vision is to create one community, learning and playing together, to maximize the potential of children, families and early childhood professionals.
5. Given the current budget and legal constraints of our education system to support special needs kids, what do you see as needing to change at the local, state, and federal level to improve the situation and how will you help make that happen?
As County Superintendent I will ensure the County Office of Education works closely with federal, state, and local leaders to implement adequate, and sustainable funding and provide the necessary resources to provide every child with an excellent education. This will require advocacy at every level, but as a leader driven by the fundamental belief that children are our most important resource, I am committed to the hard work ahead.
I will ensure that students with special needs are considered in every conversation about the expenditure of education dollars. I will advocate for more aligned funding, so we are better able to think in a unified way about the needs of all students. This thinking includes professional development for general education teachers around universal design for learning (UDL). UDL improves outcomes for all students and is equally critical to the success of all students with special needs.
As we move forward, we must continue to find ways to address general education and special education as one unified system and not as fragmented pieces of the whole. We must come to see that the whole child is best served by one system that personalizes the learning for and around that child. We have a lot of work ahead, but with your engagement and support, I am the best candidate to lead the way.