SNKIDS.ORG asked the candidates 5 questions related to their positions on issues related to special needs kids.
Here are their answers.
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?
Dr. Gary Waddell – I have spent my career in the service of equity and inclusion. As County Superintendent, it is my commitment to extend that work by creating systems that serve all children well. Vis-à-vis special education, this means ensuring that the County Office is collaborative, and partnering with LEAs as well as community organizations, parents, and advocacy groups. It also means maintaining a commitment to a forward-thinking vision of a powerful, single, coherent system that articulates well and breaks down silos. The yardstick by which we will measure our progress is the impact on students and creating dynamic and responsive systems in which all students can grow, learn, and thrive.
It is challenging to say one thing that I will do, as there is no silver bullet. Instead we need to commit to effective, responsive systems that provide the services and supports that students with IEPs need.
Having said that, I will work at the policy level to ensure forward-thinking legislation and policy around serving students with special needs; fight for additional resources at the policy/legislative level; and work as active partners with our SELPA and local districts to provide innovative service models that support and deepen the quality and scope of services to students with special needs.
Nancy Magee – 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?
Nancy Magee – 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.
Dr. Gary Waddell – A gap area that requires our best thinking and imagination is the teacher shortage in special education. I have already been working closely with our teacher pipeline project over the past few years, an initiative that needs to continue to grow and expand over the next decade. Some early models of new thinking have emerged.
Supporting districts around accountability for students with special needs continues to be an area where the County Office of Education can make a direct impact on outcomes for students and provide support services for districts who are the direct provider of services.
The future of special education services offered through the County Office of Education continues to be an area that we must address. A model that is a blend of direct service, support services, and modeling of best practice seems to offer the best potential for growth. However, it is my view that we need to engage in a deep conversation with stakeholders across the county–county special education teachers and service providers, districts, parents, and students–to map a system of service that meets the diverse needs of students, is financially sustainable, and works in collaboration with other services provided in the county. This conversation must necessarily focus on student needs, district capacity, service quality, and cost.
3. In your current position, what one accomplishment has made the most impact on special needs kids or adults?
Dr. Gary Waddell – My style of leadership and governance is grounded in my training and experience as a counselor, facilitator, and convener. It is my view that a leadership ethic which involves getting the very best, smartest people in key positions – people who understand that the most essential leadership function is the ability to bring together constituencies with varying points of view, to think outside the box, and create new models to change outcomes for students is the way that we will see real change for students.
My work and experience at the state level, as a recent Chair of the statewide Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee, provides me with a unique perspective into large-scale systems change. This statewide committee works as partners with the State Board of Education, the CA Department of Education, and all 58 County Offices of Education to implement education policy across all content areas. I note it here as this level of broader leadership and coordination is central to the future areas of focus that I project that require building partnerships and collaborative systems to serve students with special needs.
I am most proud of the equity focus that I have brought to the San Mateo County Office of Education and the Instructional offerings that we provide. That focus has been the work of my career, and it is the focus and priority that I will continue to hold as paramount as County Superintendent of Schools.
Nancy Magee – 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?
Nancy Magee – 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.
Dr. Gary Waddell – The County Office of Education is uniquely situated to work as partners with local districts and the SELPA to ensure that San Mateo County leads the way in service to students with special needs.
In my role overseeing curriculum and instruction, I am proud that I have assembled a dynamic team of equity-minded professionals who understand the role of the County Office of Education as one to support local practitioners, maintain a focus on children first, and lead with equity – including employing a daily lens of looking at the many services that we provide and their impact on special needs students at all the grade levels. This is a way of working that we should do more of across the various divisions and programs of the County Office of Education
Additionally, dispute resolution has been a highly successful model implemented by the San Mateo County SELPA. This is a prime example of a service that is philosophically sound, models ethical practice, and is sustainable in terms of cost: benefit in the long term.
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?
Dr. Gary Waddell -California has been marking its transition to a single, coherent system of education between both state and federal systems as well as articulating between general and special education. The existing silos, while serving needs in some areas, need to shift to create broader systems with greater articulation.
California’s 2015 Special Education Task Force noted this need for a shift to a culture of collaboration and coordination. The partnerships that are so critical to effectively creating wrap-around services for our children and youth are examples of the areas that we need to continue to grow and expand in the next decade.
I am a consensus builder and believe in forming strong coalitions. I have strong relationships with our local legislators, which are the foundation for enacting change at the state/policy level. For example, I have been endorsed for County Superintendent of Schools by US Congresswomen Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo; Assembly Members Kevin Mullin, Phil Ting, and Marc Berman; State Senator Scott Wiener; and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, as well as four San Mateo County Supervisors and hundreds of educational leaders across San Mateo County and California.
The ability to bring a coalition together and work collaboratively with partners who bring unique perspectives to the table is critical in the years ahead as we reimagine our work for the children who most need us to be our very best. Doing that is why I am seeking the office of County Superintendent of Schools.
Nancy Magee – 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.
Thank you – your questions
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