Community leaders and elected officials visited the Special Education Program at Education for Change Achieve Academy which serves a high number of students with moderate to severe disabilities. Education leaders from Oakland Unified and Oakland charter schools joined together for collaboration and learning.
FIA kicked off December 2022 hosting local elected officials and community leaders on legislative bus tours to visit some of Oakland’s most tenacious and creative school communities. These tours are designed to promote collaboration and a shared commitment to improving education among a diversity of leaders. The FIA “Get on the Bus” tours provide a chance for Oakland policymakers and policy shapers to hear directly from education stakeholders and to see best practices in action that are shifting outcomes for underserved students.
On day two, the focus was on programming for students with moderate to severe disabilities and provided a chance for county and city school board members to see how each school approached learning for students with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans). This tour was especially important because– in Oakland– enrollment in special education has increased significantly since 2014, with an increase of +36% more students with IEPs served in district schools and +80% more students with IEPs in charter schools.
Since 2014, there are +36% more students with IEPs served in Oakland’s district schools and +80% more students with IEPs in charter schools.
At the Yu Ming Mandarin immersion program, leaders have expanded Special Education programming and multi-tiered interventions to support students with higher levels of disability.
On the bus was Alameda County School Board member Janevette Cole, Oakland School Board member Sam Davis, OUSD Chief of Special Education Programming Jennifer Blake, and Oakland City Councilwoman Treva Reid. They visited Yu Ming, KIPP Bridge Academy, and Achieve Academy, and the group saw wide-ranging teaching and learning styles in action and had a chance to talk with school leaders about what resources they were lacking and areas of programmatic strength. “You can see the connection between students and teachers at [Achieve], where no matter if a student had moderate or severe disabilities, they were still being held to a standard. That’s what I would demand for my child,” said councilmember Treva Reid.
At KIPP Bridge, Special Education programming includes counseling-enriched programming for students with high behavioral health needs, a Specialized Teaching Program (STP) and intentional inclusion into General Education classrooms. Investment in robust staffing has supported the significant expansion of services.
Overall, OUSD-run schools serve 15.3% students with disabilities and charter schools serve 11.7%. Over 7,500 students receive special education services in district and charter schools, with a majority of those students being Black and Latino. “If we are to improve outcomes for Black and Brown students in Oakland, part of that advancement must happen in special education programming,” said former Oakland school board member James Harris.
This tour builds on a collaboration launched in 2021-22 between the OUSD Office of Charter Schools, FIA, CCSA and school leaders to share best practices and increase capacity among charter schools to serve students with higher disability levels. “I hope to continue the special education collaboration between district and charter schools. Today was a great start,” said OUSD Executive Director of Special Education Jennifer Blake.
Achieve Academy Principal Myers shared her long-standing commitment to leading inclusive special education programs including serving students with severe Autism. Family satisfaction is high among Achieve parents.
FIA also wanted elected and community leaders to see that many students with disabilities lost critical opportunities to learn and thrive as a result of the pandemic. Over the last few years, many students with IEPs had increased difficulty accessing appropriate educational support during the pandemic due to the limitations of virtual instruction.
“We encourage our leaders to understand and prioritize the diverse needs of our students and how Oakland schools are working creatively to accelerate our most vulnerable students’ during our recovery from the pandemic. It is time to put our students, including those with disabilities, not “charter versus district” at the top of our agenda,” said FIA CEO Kimi Kean.