Public School Performance Issues

It often starts with a teacher contacting the guidance counselor about a student in her class. “I know it is only the very beginning of the year, but I have a student from out-of-district that already seems to be struggling to keep up in my regular ed class. I was wondering if you could check into his background since we don’t seem to have any test scores, grades or other information from his past school listed in our student information system. I have him sitting front and center, but he needs to be reminded to do what I am doing with the rest of the class.  I am guessing that he may have some attention issues because he tends to look off into space. Could you see what the other school’s records say about him?”
In this case, the parent enrolled him in our school just before the beginning of our school year with the minimum of documentation. We requested records from the previous school, but we haven’t received anything so we try to obtain this information as quickly as possible, but we are at their mercy and sometimes it doesn’t come to us very quickly. We contact the parent, but the cell number we have has a voice mail that is full. I call the student to my office to meet with him to review his current grades and and try to get some background information.
He isn’t sure why I called him to my office and I try to make him feel comfortable by explaining that I meet with all my students so that I can get to know them, review their grades, talk about their previous year in school, discuss their activities, current goals for this year and ask them about their career plans. He is very guarded about what he tells me and seems somewhat disinterested in his grades which are all in need of improvement. I do manage to get him to tell me where he lived in Florida and that he,  his stepmother, dad and his little brother are living with his dad’s mother. He finally tells me that he failed 7th grade last year and I print his assignments, quiz and test grades and ask him to take the information home and share this information with his parents. I put my name, telephone number and e-mail information on the print out.
Before he leaves, I explain that I will be working with him and his teachers to help him become successful. I also ask him again to share the print out with his parents and ask him to have them contact me. I reassure him that we are going to find a way to help him with his grades and come up with a plan that he will be a part of. Now I need to try and get his records and hope a parent contacts me ASAP. If the parents don’t contact me, I do have other ways to make contact.
It didn’t take long for his step mother to reach out to me. She called within two days and I received the signed print out that same day from the student, who I will call Bryan. I also received am e-mail from his math teacher who asked that Bryan be moved to her home room. This would make it easy for Bryan to get help from his math teacher and work on his most difficult subject. Things don’t usually happen this quickly or with this ease. Usually, I follow up with the student and they don;t have the print out and I don’t get a call from the parent. It is usually the teachers and possibly an Intervention and Referral Services (I&RS) team that has to develop all of the strategies and work very hard to get the student and family on board. That is the major reason it is so hard to able students that have a history of not doing well in school.
Bryan’s step mother provided a lot of back ground information about Bryan, his acting out behaviors and struggles in school. It didn’t seem like Bryan and his parents were uninterested in making changes and improving his performance, but they were having a difficult time figuring out how to start and how to maintain progress. I get it. Developing good study habits, changing attitudes about Bryan’s abilities and creating a specific plan for success is not easy.
When I met with Bryan, I made it clear that he needed to commit to some changes, but I also reassured him that I would meet with him on a regular basis to provide suggestions and encouragement. When we discussed goals, we discussed specific goals that would allow him to start becoming successful right away. He missed a lot of assignments so his first goal was to reduce the number of missing assignments. We discussed using his agenda to write down his assignments or to use his phone to take a screen shot.  The second goal was to specifically set a time that he would do his homework and work on projects. Third, Bryan needed start paying attention to anything that he didn’t understand and develop a method to write it down or keep track of it. Fourth, he needed to have a plan to meet with each of his teachers to get clarification and assistance. Fifth, he and I were going to meet within two weeks to discuss his progress.
Next: Making Adjustments and Encouragement.

A Parent’s Plan for Productive Children

I retired from my position as a Middle School Guidance Counselor effective 1/1/19, but I have been off for Christmas Holiday since 12/21/18. I took a long break from my blog to travel, reassess what I wanted to do during my retirement and to enjoy a new life style. With more than 20 years in education and more than 25 years of Executive Human Resources experience, I have been providing advice and counsel from the board room with the CEO, COO, corporate attorneys and other executives to a small conference room with confused and anxious parents.

My approach will be to provide some examples of situations (no identities revealed) that I have been personally or professionally involved with and my thoughts on methods and ideas to assist parents that have similar concerns. Not all situations are the same and an approach needs to be specific to that situation. With that said, there are a lot of differences in how effective parents approach helping their children make productive  social, educational, career and financial  decisions.

As an extreme example, my conversations with the great grandparents of a middle school student that is having educational and social issues is much different than my conversation with affluent and well educated parents that have lived with their children since birth. The former may have just had their four great grandchildren placed in their care because no one else in the family wanted that responsibility. Their financial resources, knowledge of technology and their values may be extremely different than the other family. There may be a big difference in the skill levels and level of confidence in the two students. In both cases the interventions need to be a product of a meeting that brings together all of the parties that have responsibility for that child’s performance.

From that first meeting, there needs to be agreement on who is responsible for what interventions. This needs to be clearly communicated and there needs to be specific dates that performance is evaluated. This may seem very controlled and analytic, but if we don’t actually establish a base line of facts, it is very difficult to develop meaningful interventions or to determine the amount of progress that was made. We also need to understand that we don’t just fix this by installing a new part. This is a process and will take time. The problem usually didn’t just start, but has been a gradual decline to the point that everyone wants something done right now.

My next blog will examine a specific problem and some thoughts on how to develop a plan. I would love to hear any thoughts or questions that anyone wants to present.

Plans for this blog

I haven’t posted anything for a while because I have been getting things finalized at school and start my retirement on 12/21/18. I have also been working on a house that is almost ready to be put on the market for sale. While I was doing both of these things, I was developing a plan to organize this blog so that it is not as random as it has been.

It is possible that I will post before I retire, but I would like to have a more organized approach that lends itself to a thoughtful flow of information and a more specific long term plan for the blog. Looking back on e-mails, reports and things that I have written, I realize that writing about disabilities and focusing on how to to able, not disable a person is not a straight line activity. Even the best of plans that were developed by a group of professionals does not always have the intended effect. When some are focused on how the person will feel and some are focused on specific directed activities, confusion about our approach may make it difficult to implement plans.

As an example, a student that has experienced a lot of failures in their home and school lives may have an IEP (individual education plan) that tries to build up their self esteem, skills and level of performance. The accommodations and modifications may be very successful in making them feel better about themselves (based on grades that are posted), and parents may be very happy that their child is now on the honor roll, but what is the actual effect on skill development? What is the actual value of that A or B when it is evaluated by a “high stakes” state test or compared to the scope and complexity in a regular classroom? At the end of their high school education, how competitive are they when they apply for a program or a job?




Are IEP’s Different at Different Schools?

You might think that IEP’s (Individual Educational Plan) are standardized and would easily transfer from school to school, but each school can be a little different and the plans for one school may not work in another. The IEP is written by a case manager or member of the CST (Child Study Team) with input from teachers and parents. If those that are writing the new annual plan (in the same school district) really don’t understand how the new school works, they write the plan based on how their school works.

When the student moves up from the elementary school to the middle school, students sometimes have difficulties because the expectations are different and the culture is different. Middle school has more freedoms and students have more teachers. The ability to share information by walking across the hall to talk to another teacher that has that student is no longer an option. In middle school and high school, there is a good possibility that the student’s teachers have no opportunity to discuss that student. The focus seems to be on curriculum and test scores and the goal seems to be how to prepare students for college. The focus can also vary from school to school.

There is also the element of independence. Middle school teachers want students to be more independent than elementary school teachers and the level of independence goes up again in high school. Middle and high school teachers teach a subject or subjects to different groups of students and may see more than a hundred students a day. If your child has an IEP, and is scheduled to be in a classroom with a regular education curriculum with the focus on preparing students for college, what should be included in that IEP? It depends on the focus of the school’s CST, the teacher’s approach, the culture of the school and its administration and how well a parent advocates for their child.

If the parent believes their child needs to go to college, then it becomes a process of developing accommodations to help make the child competitive. My question is about careers and the abilities of the student to be competitive when they apply for a job. Have the accommodations helped them become competitive in the actual job market or have the accommodations allowed them to get good grades while they are in school? A lot of parents want to create accommodations that will reduce what needs to be completed, add additional time to complete assignments and allow the student to make test corrections or have a different test to ensure that they will get a good grade. Is doing less a good plan to make someone more able?

Below the regular education inclusion classes that have students with IEP’s and accommodations, are more restrictive programs. Although the classes might have different titles, they are smaller groups of students with an adjusted pace and curriculum to provide more opportunities to individualize the instruction. The goal to have students learn to do more as a result of the ability to provide more individualized instruction. My goal is to look at how we help individuals at all levels become more able. With students that have an IEP, I believe that we need to motivate toward doing as much as they can, rather than creating accommodations to allow them to do less. I also believe that we help our children and student best when we talk about their interests and help them develop plans to pursue their goals.



Making the IEP Work

I have attended hundreds of IEP meetings. The range of abilities varies within each classification and also in the manner of how the IEP is implemented. Sometimes the school does not have the resources to make the plan help the student maximize their unique abilities. Sometimes the teachers can’t navigate the constraints of their resources or the philosophy of the administration and their Child Study Team (the team that evaluates students to see if they need an IEP and creates the IEP that defines the services and accommodations that the child receives). With that said, what can the parent and student do?

The programs that I am familiar with allow students that are 14 or older to participate in the planning of their IEP. Before age 14, the child has very little input, except their ability to influence their parents that the classes are too hard or too easy or to help shape the parent’s view of the teacher or the school. If the parents believe that their child needs more assistance, more support and a reduction in what they have to do, the result is that the student is not trying to exceed the requirements that have been set, but are trying to do less than is expected. When a student on this path completes their education, are they able to compete for jobs?

I have been a guidance counselor in a public school for more than 20 years and I have approximately 25 years of progressively more senior experience in human resources with major corporations as well as over 25 years of competitive coaching experience. These experiences have helped me develop a clear view of what traits produce successful teams and individuals. A desire to be the best that you can be. The ability to continue working on goals, even when things get difficult. Having a support network that includes a mentor to help keep you focused on continued progress and etc.

My point is that we help able our students, our children, our employees, our team mates and co-workers by helping them able themselves, not limit themselves. I don’t want to tell someone that they can’t, but a degree of reality keeps all of us focused on realistic goals. Is there someone in your life that needs a mentor? What is stopping you from being a mentor? All the best to each of us that are trying to make our lives and the lives of our neighbors better.

How do I Able, Not Disable

It Depends. If you are in Salem County, New Jersey, it may be a matter of opportunities that are available. Transportation is always an issue, but in a more rural area, it becomes even harder. There is a specialized transportation option, but you need to plan effectively and have time to wait for your ride. If you are looking for off normal hours, weekends and holidays, it becomes even more difficult. Having a large supportive network makes it easier to take advantage of opportunities and to develop a vibrant social life.

Friends of mine have Retinitis pigmentosa (RP). RP is the name given to a group of inherited conditions of the retina that all lead to a gradual progressive reduction in vision. Difficulties with night vision and peripheral (‘side’) vision are the first things that are noticed. Later, reading vision (detailed vision), color vision, and central (‘straight-ahead’) vision are affected. The age at which symptoms start is variable and the rate of deterioration often varies – for example with the different genetic types – but is generally very slow with changes occurring over years rather than months. Despite their diagnosis, it would be difficult for most able people to keep up with them.

When we were in Jamaica this past summer, our group went to Dunns River Falls. Imagine an incline of water rushing by you as you try to navigate slippery rocks. The guide is telling everyone to pay attention and hold hands because everyone is going to need help in getting to the top. My friends, who are legally blind, are with us and we all made it to the top. They refuse to be disabled and are on various adventures throughout the year. They also moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, so that they could take advantage of a very good transportation system that allows them to live independently.

Mark and Sherry have a large and supportive network that they have developed and they use the latest technology available to their benefit. We able our children by helping them learn these strategies. Is that really true and is this what are schools are doing?

In truth, this is not happening because schools are more about testing and planning for college. Vocational programs have been taken out of our schools and most child are “left behind” because they haven’t been given the chance to learn how to develop basic living skills (cooking, cleaning, balancing a checkbook, fixing things, using tools safely and etc). We don’t give our students a lot of opportunities to be creative and learn to be independent. We also have a tendency to do things for our children rather than letting them struggle some as we guide them through the learning process.

Give a child a fish and you feed that child for a meal, if you taught the child to cook. Teach a child to fish and cook and you feed that child for a lifetime.