Atlanta Public Schools’ Program for Exceptional Children (PEC) rolled out its new inclusive school practices initiative that will be implemented over the next three years, to approximately 900 special education professionals during a system-wide training held Aug. 4-5 at Douglass High School.
PEC interim director Constance Goodson stated during her presentation, titled “Pathways to Systemic Change,” that the district will implement unified, system-wide inclusive school practices framework over a three-year period through intense professional development and teacher assessment. The term “inclusive practices” is the collection of organizational and instructional practices used by effective schools to educate a diverse student population, including students with disabilities in general education settings.
Also new this year: Every school will have a lead special education teacher who will coordinate logistics in collaboration with special education teacher, and all special education teachers will serve as case managers for their students. In addition, principals (or assistant principals at larger schools) will serve as the Local Education Agency Representative, which is required for every PEC student that participates in an Individualized Education Program.
Sonja Atkinson, a speech therapist and lead PEC teacher at Cleveland Avenue and Usher-Collier Heights elementary schools, said she is on board with the new changes. “When Mr. Fernander talked about the changes, I got excited,” said Atkinson, who’s been teaching at APS for eight years. “I think it’s great that everyone is taking ownership and responsibility for our students’ success. When something goes wrong, we all have a vested interest in fixing whatever the problem is. When something goes right, we can all applaud the student’s accomplishments.”
Grady High School PEC English literature teacher Jacob Hackett said he likes that the new changes are a lot more student-driven and student-focused from all approaches. “It’s been our responsibility from day one, so this allows us to execute more effectively,” said Hackett, who teaches ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade students with mild intellectual disabilities in inclusive classrooms. “Bringing in all of the stakeholders (IEP team) together is also critical.”
The second annual system-wide training featured presentations on guidelines for special case management, the implementation of APS’ 26 best practices in teaching and learning, IEP Online and functional behavioral assessment, followed by breakout sessions in the afternoon related to their areas of expertise and school reform teams.