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SCU School of Education and Counseling Psychology to Launch Inclusive Education Professional Support Program for Santa Clara County School Districts

Victoria Forrester - Teacher Education

ECP will be launching an Inclusive Education Professional Support Program with principals and school district administrators within Santa Clara County. The three-year pilot program is designed to coach school leaders in methods to better integrate classrooms that account for students across diverse learning needs and backgrounds.

Teacher in classroom with students

Kicking off December 8th, SCU’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology (ECP) will be launching an Inclusive Education Professional Support Program with principals and school leaders across our region. Funded by Charmaine and Dan Warmenhoven, longtime supporters of inclusive education, the program is free to districts and is being executed as part of ECP’s ongoing commitment to fostering more inclusive classrooms. 

The three-year pilot program is being led by ECP Lecturer Victoria Forrester, and is designed to support and coach professional learning communities of school leaders in approaches to serving students with diverse learning needs. The program will begin with planning and data collection from leaders detailing the needs of their districts and how the program could be most helpful to them, then will continue with cycles of action, inquiry, and reflection. School leaders will have the tools at their fingertips to continue this work after the program concludes. 

Backed by research that has demonstrated how equitable systems of intervention and support have a positive impact on academic growth, student behavior, and social-emotional learning, the program will provide coaching on implementing the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) in area public, charter and Catholic schools. 

What is MTSS?

MTSS is a systemic approach designed to meet the academic, linguistic, behavioral and social emotional needs of all students through a continuum of support that includes fluid access to instruction and interventions of varying intensity.

The framework consists of three tiers, with Tier 1 being high-quality and culturally relevant instruction by teachers for all students. 80-85% of instruction should fall within this tier. Tier 2 consists of targeted interventions that some students receive in addition to Tier 1 instruction. 10-15% of instruction should fall within this tier. 

“The third tier is intensive instruction and intervention designed to serve only a few students based on their individual needs. Only a small percentage of the student population of instruction should fall within this tier, but currently, 45% of the student population is receiving this instruction. Our goal with this program is to bring more student instruction into Tier 1 by incorporating more equitable forms of teaching into the classroom,” says Forrester. 

MTSS for Systemic Change

An educator herself and former school leader for over 35 years, Forrester has conducted similar coaching programs for school districts across California and Washington. While the needs of school districts are diverse, the reasons for too many students falling into Tier 3 are rooted in similar causes. 

“You can walk on any campus and predict who’s going to do well and who’s not, because our school systems haven’t changed much in the last 200 years. We see more students of color being sent to special education, tracking, and programs with dead ends because educators and school leaders fail to understand all the outside factors that can affect a student’s academic performance,” says Forrester. “Once educators feel like they’ve tried all they know with a student, they send them out of the classroom and assume they need special education. But sometimes, it just takes culturally responsive leadership and teachers that fully understand their own bias in addition to how students’ life experiences outside of the classroom could be affecting their academic performance and behavior in the classroom.” 

The coaching ultimately boils down to asking why students are misbehaving and/or falling behind, and finding ways to work with these students and high performing students in one classroom. Forrestor notes that this requires a change in mindset by educators that are often not taught in their teacher prep programs about how to integrate special education students into general education settings.

“We’re traditionally taught to put the kid out of the classroom, losing precious instructional time. We need to learn how to try and hold the kid in.”

While the program will begin with school leaders, Forrester and her team will eventually be coaching educators in the classroom. Topics will include changing campus mindset, culturally responsive inquiry, and moving away from punitive discipline structures. Superintendents have already shown support for the program, and are looking forward to working with Forrester’s team on what the program will look like for their respective school districts. 

“I know we as educators and school leaders are all doing our best with the resources we have, and we all have the same goal to support our students the best we can,” says Forrester. “But to help our kids, it starts with us adults. We need to put in the work to enact the systemic change that ensures communities, schools, and families are working together to create more equitable classrooms.”

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