California Educator

May 2015

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Lake Elsinore teachers engage community to create supportive environment for students By Ed Sibby "We knew we had tapped into something when we hosted our first CTA-sponsored special education meeting for interested mem- bers, and 75 teachers showed up," says Lake Elsinore Teachers Association President Bill Cavanaugh. What LETA heard over the course of these meetings was an outpouring of valid concerns about students being underserved because of programmatic flaws that had led to uneven distribution of services within the district. "We were frustrated to the point that we knew we could no longer continue with the status quo," says Elisabeth Brehm, a general education teacher. Through their union, dedicated LETA members orga- nized around this professional issue by conducting site visits, surveying membership, and setting strategic goals to improve services for all students. LETA and LEUSD have since agreed to contract language establishing a joint Special Education Steering Committee to ensure ongoing communication and collaborative problem-solving. Further educational change followed with the establish- ment of the union-supported Parent Network and a partnership with the local Parent Training Information Center called Team of Advocates for Special Kids (TASK). This outreach has led to the engagement of community members whose voices were previously not heard in the district. Parent forums are now held regularly, and a CTA Community Engagement Grant provides the child care, food, and interpretation services for non-English-speaking parents. "Access has strengthened our ability to provide services as early as possible for younger students," says TASK staff member Brenda Smith. Available trainings include Assistive Tech- nology, Collaboration, Boys Town, and IEP for Parents. "It's been very helpful, because these parents now have an avenue to ask questions and get the right services for their child," says Cavanaugh. Union-led outreach to the California Department of Educa- tion, TASK, WestEd and CTA for access to technical support and resources has led to the district implementing a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) to strengthen the general education environment for all students. Now there is a focus on supporting school site teams with training and communication tools. School psychologist Susan Bottino explains: "Our goal was to create a program that would help both teachers and students feel more supported." As a result, Student Study Team (SST) discus- sions now include social-emotional well-being in their assessment and intervention plans. "This allows all of the players a part in supporting each other for the benefit of the student," says Bottino. "Let's face it, students are more successful and resilient when they are engaged in a positive, support- ive environment." Fo r B r e h m , w h o i s c h a i r o f t h e special education committee, it's still all about collaboration and community. "When students feel supported and have self-esteem, they are willing to take more risks and even be willing to risk failure. And when parents feel important, heard and valued, it fosters the type of teamwork necessary for all our students to be successful." LETA is clearly putting the CTA strategic plan into action by building an organizing culture to advocate for students, teachers and parents. W hat began in 2011 as a chapter response to burgeoning special education issues has grown into a robust teach- er-driven series of programs that now has teachers, par- ents, students and administrators working together to improve all student outcomes throughout the 22,000-student Lake Elsinore Unified School District (LEUSD) in Riverside County. Aturi sim quam qui at. Ruptasp mosam, ommoles rectur, omnienit Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) collaborative with school site teams consisting of parents, teachers and administrators at Canyon Lake Middle School in Lake Elsinore. Let's face it, students are more successful and resilient when they are engaged in a positive, supportive environment. Advocacy Bargaining 39 V O L U M E 1 9 I S S U E 9

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