Enhanced Opportunities for Special Education in Connecticut

Brief from the Chief – Anne Louise Thompson

As we wind down our school year we find ourselves organizing for the change in tasks that invariably comes with the launching of our summer work.  For us, here at the Bureau of Special Education, the expectation of summer tasks comes with the added anticipation of the many new and exciting venues in which we find ourselves involved.

I have mentioned, in the past, the changes that have begun to reshape the Department of Education and the manner in which we do business in education here in Connecticut.  Both Governor Malloy and Commissioner of Education Pryor have openly committed to improving the achievement of all students.  Within that commitment comes an added focus on the Bureau of Special Education and the ways in which we may support and guide school districts toward improving the achievement of students with disabilities.  Certainly, as we move actively and deliberately into this work, we take along with us a very basic premise: students with disabilities can only be truly served by addressing the issues and concerns within an all-encompassing educational system, not by addressing issues and concerns only within the service delivery systems of special education.  This we all know from experience.  Yet we do appreciate that there is something special about special education to which we must also address our efforts.

With that in mind, we fully understand what our summer work, and surely the efforts that will be well underway as we enter back to school in September, will look like.  We find our bureau staff taking seats front and center alongside consultants driving initiatives based in a variety of other Department bureaus.  We find ourselves becoming truly embedded and fully considered in the planning stages of each of the current educational reform initiatives; special education considerations helping to shape the initiative rather than being retrofitted afterward.   Our work, as I expect yours is as well, includes preparing for the staff performance evaluation system, Common Core State Standards implementation and the next generation of assessment online testing.   This is an historic time in education in Connecticut and the Bureau of Special Education is integrally engaged in these initiatives.

A good deal of the work has already begun.  As just one example, the involvement of the bureau of special education in the various aspects of the Department’s Secondary School Reform in Connecticut initiative has been extensive.  As we near the mandated date for roll out of Student Success Plans (SSP) for all Gr.  6-12 students we find that our bureau has been at the table shaping the SSP as well as offering critical professional development presentations and technical assistance to the field.  Our bureau has edited and added resource elements to the Comprehensive Student Support Systems Essential Practices Framework as well as collaborating on addressing the needs of students with disabilities as related to the Capstone Project.  Certainly, as with all initiatives, as each component is operationalized in districts throughout Connecticut, there will be lessons to be learned and adjustments to be made.  However, of essential importance is the understanding that the need for any adjustments will not be brought about because the components were released to the field without significant prior consideration to the impact on the programs of students with disabilities.  No, all students, including students with disabilities, are being considered in a proactive manner, improving the educational benefit of each and every Department initiative.

With regard to the Educational Reform initiative, the BSE is involved in all six of its guiding principles.   Principle One enhances families’ access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities.   Principle Two authorizes the intensive interventions and enables the supports necessary to turn around Connecticut’s lowest-performing schools and districts.  Principle Three expands the availability of high-quality school models, including traditional schools, magnets, charters, and others.  Principle Four unleashes innovation by removing red tape and other barriers to success.  Principle Five ensures that our schools are home to the very best teachers and principals.  Principle Six delivers more resources, targeted to districts with the greatest need.

So, I offer you this challenge.  I challenge you to find even one principle of Connecticut’s Educational Reform package in which the needs and interests of students with disabilities are not in some way represented.  In my review of these principles, I have seen the faces of countless students, students with disabilities, shining out, embedded within each principle’s most basic elements, ready to receive the full consideration they so richly deserve.  Truly, the time is right and the doors have been opened for aggressively moving forward.  Our students deserve nothing less.  Our combined effort will be required as we expand the boundaries of our roles and engage with each other on behalf of students with disabilities.

Finally, the Bureau is looking forward to seeing all of you at our Bureau’s Annual Back to School Meeting on September 19, 2012 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell.  Please make sure to set aside the time to attend this important event.