Helping Children and Families Succeed Through the Most Difficult Times of Their Lives

By Joyce Yee, LEV Community Organizer

Seneca Family of Agencies - League of Education VotersSeneca Family of Agencies began thirty years ago as a small residential treatment program for some of the most vulnerable foster youth in California. Now, Seneca works with over seventy school districts and charter public schools throughout California and Washington. Their model follows a team-oriented approach that helps build everyone’s capacity for an inclusive school environment to better serve students with trauma histories, mental health needs, disabilities or other barriers to success.

The philosophy of Seneca’s work comes from their experiences within and across public systems of care and in working with communities. They believe that the answers to even our communities’ most profound challenges can be found within individuals, and that parents are the primary experts on what works well for their children. And, they believe that designing schools that work for students who have historically struggled the most will result in schools that work for all students.

Lihi Rosenthal, Executive Director of Education at Seneca Family of Agencies, spoke about why some of these common sense strategies have not been widely implemented. “Because of how their funding streams are allocated, both Medicaid-funded mental health services for young people in need and special education services for children with disabilities follow a ‘fail first’ approach,” says Lihi. In other words, students have to struggle mightily after experiencing some sort of trauma before they can receive treatment and services to help them do better.

Once students’ difficulties rise to the level of crisis, then and only then are they cleared to receive expert help from qualified mental health specialists, special educators, and other transdisciplinary professionals. Yet, here again, treatment or services are reserved only for those who have already qualified for help, and are not made available to the school as a whole, even though there may be many other students who could benefit from them. According to Lihi, “The system tends to focus on the few students in crisis, rather than more holistically looking at delivering programs that might benefit all students.” As a result, families of students who struggle the most are often sent to multiple agencies located miles away from the school, decreasing the likelihood that individual interventions will carry over from closed-door therapy rooms into other domains of a young person’s life, from the classroom to the family dining room to the soccer field and the cafeteria.

In contrast, Seneca partners with schools to design interventions that are delivered not through isolated services, but which are integrated with a school culture of safety, belonging and academic curiosity. Wendy Durst, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Seneca Family of Agencies, says, “Seneca works with schools to design preventative and early intervention strategies that bring transdisciplinary experts out of their siloes and into the places where students spend the most time in schools – the hallways, lunch rooms, and their general education classrooms.”

This approach – Seneca’s Unconditional Education model – is currently being studied by SRI International, an external evaluator assigned to the program as part of a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant Seneca was awarded in 2013. After its first full year of investigation, the model has shown promising early results at the seven California schools included in the study, including statistically significant gains in literacy and math for students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

Shouldn’t this be part of basic education?

#Beyond Basic

 

Read LEV’s blog post on Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

Education Advocate January 2017

ED Advocate, League of Education Voters Newsletter, January

Greetings

Chris Korsmo
Chris Korsmo, CEO

The new year is upon us, and the 2017 Legislative Session is officially under way. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the future for every Washington student. To that end, LEV is proud to join the newly-launched Campaign for Student Success. Together, we can stand up for students and ensure every kid in Washington state receives a great education.

Also, LEV interviewed Governor Inslee on his 2017-2018 budget plan, we have released our 2017 Legislative Agenda, and our partners at Washington STEM are hosting a free Lunchtme LEVinar January 24 on Career Connected Leaning and STEM.

Read below for more about our work.

Finally, I would like to extend a big thank-you to our donors in the fourth quarter of 2016. You make our work possible. Thanks for all you do for kids. We couldn’t do it without you.

Chris Korsmo signature

 

 

Chris Korsmo

2017 Washington state Regional Teachers of the Year Kendra Yamamoto and Elizabeth Loftus - League of Education Voters

League of Education Voters 2017 Annual Breakfast

Please join us for our seventh annual LEV Breakfast on Thursday, March 30, a celebration of Washington’s teachers and an engaging conversation on how we can advocate to put great teachers in front of the kids who need them most. Featured will be 2017 Regional Teacher of the Year recipients Kendra Yamamoto and Elizabeth Loftus on how great teachers are the key to student success. Read more

Governor Jay Inslee - League of Education Voters

Podcast Interview with Governor Jay Inslee

On the day he released his 2017-2018 budget, Governor Jay Inslee sat down with League of Education Voters Communications Director Arik Korman to discuss his 2017 education priorities, how to build bridges in today’s political climate, and how to close the opportunity and achievement gaps.

Washington state capitol - League of Education Voters

LEV’s 2017 Legislative Agenda

In the upcoming legislative session, the League of Education Voters will focus on educator compensation, student supports, accountability, early learning, higher education, and local governance. Also, our 2017 Legislative Bill Tracker is now live! And if you would like to receive Chris Korsmo’s Weekly Roundup during the legislative session, you can sign up here. Read our legislative agenda here
 

Career Connected Learning - League of Education Voters

Career Connected Learning and STEM

In our free January 24 webinar, Washington STEM Chief Policy and Strategy Officer Caroline King and Senior Program Officer Gilda Wheeler will teach us how career connected learning can benefit students, how CTE and career connected learning are connected, and how to support CTE and career connected learning through policy and program work. Register here

Student Supports - League of Education Voters

Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

Part of defining basic education is determining what each and every student should have access to in their school. Currently, our system does not guarantee access to student supports that are critical to many students’ academic success—including support staff like counselors or nurses, and programming like additional tutoring. There are a number of approaches we can take to making sure that students receive the supports and resources they need. Read more

Heather Wallace, January 2017 League of Education Voters Activist of the Month

LEV’s Activist of the Month

At the League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for January: Heather Wallace.Learn about Heather’s work advocating for public education, especially when it comes to early learning. Read more

2017 League of Education Voters 7th Annual Parent & Community Training

Access, Equity & Excellence: LEV’s 7th Annual Parent and Community Training

LEV’s annual parent and community training happens February 11 at the Tukwila Community Center. Learn which programs are working on the state, school district, and community level to close the opportunity gap. Get the knowledge and the tools you need to speak up and start this important conversation in your own community, all among the company of likeminded education advocates. Breakfast, lunch and childcare provided. Register here

Get Involved

COMING UP

January 12, 2017 | South King County 2017 Legislative Preview, Kent Commons, Mill Creek Room, Kent
February 11, 2017 | Access, Equity, & Excellence: Annual Parent and Community Training, Tukwila Community Center, Tukwila

March 30, 2017 | LEV 2017 Annual Breakfast, Sheraton Hotel, Seattle


LUNCHTIME LEVINARS

January 24, 2017 | Career Connected Learning and STEM, Online webinar


HELP SUPPORT THE LEAGUE OF EDUCATION VOTERS
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Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

By the LEV Policy Team

Student Supports - League of Education VotersPart of defining basic education is determining what each and every student should have access to in their school. Currently, our system does not guarantee access to student supports that are critical to many students’ academic success—including support staff like counselors or nurses, and programming like additional tutoring. There are a number of approaches we can take to making sure that students receive the supports and resources they need.

The Learning Assistance Program

Currently, Washington provides additional supports to students that are struggling academically through the Learning Assistance Program (LAP). Districts receive funding for this program from the state based on their enrollment of low-income students. Districts must spend LAP funds on services from a list of state-approved, evidence-based practices, including one-on-one or group tutoring and extended learning time, as well as limited use of funds for staff professional development and parent engagement. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, districts must prioritize spending on K-4 literacy interventions. This focus on elementary literacy combined with limited LAP funding has resulted in some districts being unable to provide services to students in middle and high school grades.

The current funding formula for LAP does not align additional student supports and actual student need. While funding is provided to districts based on low-income enrollment, services are provided to students based on academic need, as identified by the district, regardless of income. This results in two potential misalignments. First, all academically struggling students may not be funded if there are more students in the district that need support than there are low-income students. Second, the full range of academic and non-academic needs of low-income students may not be met if they are not eligible for LAP services.

The funding formula also takes into consideration the salaries of certificated teachers in the district, even though many program services are provided by paraeducators. This creates inequities between districts because funding is different based on the characteristics of the adults in the district, not the students, even if student need is the same between districts.

LAP can be used as a mechanism to target the McCleary investments towards student supports with some changes to increase effectiveness. These changes may include:

  • Changing the funding formula to be based on student need, not adult characteristics;
  • Changing the formula to align with student eligibility for services;
  • Altering and/or expanding the allowable uses for LAP funds and increasing funding levels to ensure the needs of all eligible students are met; and
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of LAP interventions to ensure the program is improving student outcomes and closing gaps.

While considering changes to LAP, we should also be examining the needs of low-income students that are non-academic and, therefore, not addressed by the Learning Assistance Program.

Access to Support Staff

Washington provides districts with minimal funding within the current funding formula for support staff, such as counselors, social workers, nurses, and family engagement coordinators. Many of the allocations for these positions are fractions of full-time employees, meaning the amount of money districts receive is inadequate to hire these staff for more than a couple of hours a week. Our current funding structure also does not require districts to spend money allocated for specific staff positions to hire those staff. This allows districts flexibility in staffing to meet the needs of their communities, but, particularly in our environment of inadequate funding, also means that students may not have access to these staff because districts are unable or choose not to hire them. Possible ways to ensure that every student has access to the services provided by support staff could include increasing funding for support staff; requiring minimum staffing levels for support staff, potentially triggered by high-need student enrollment levels; and facilitating and encouraging partnerships between community-based service providers and districts and schools.

Special Education and Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program

Washington provides districts with additional funding for students qualifying for special education services and for English Language Learners (ELL). These funds must be spent on qualifying students, however, the funds provided by the state may not be adequate to meet the needs of all students. Particularly with special education students, the state limits the amount of special education funding to 12.7% of district enrollment. As a result, districts with larger special education student populations than the state cap may not receive the necessary funding to serve all of their students.

While special education students and ELLs receive specialized services, they also interact regularly with all school staff. However, often only the specialized staff are trained in best practices for working with these student populations. This means that outside of the specialized programing students receive, they may not be adequately supported in the school setting as a whole. Students receiving special education or English language services also may have non-academic or additional academic needs outside of those programs, and require access to other school support staff and services.

As we explore ways to better support every student in Washington schools, this could include examining the adequacy of funding for special education and the Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program (ELL students), funding professional development for all school staff in working with special education and ELL students, and encouraging schools and districts to integrate the services and supports students need outside of the specialized programming, rather than providing services in a silo.

Integrated Student Supports and Non-Academic Considerations

Students’ academic success is determined by a number of factors, including social emotional skills, physical and mental health, academic self-concept, family situation, and expectations of school staff. It is important that students have access to both the academic and non-academic supports they need in order to be successful. Washington has been taking steps to improve access to non-academic supports in recent years, including the development of social emotional learning (SEL) standards and the passage of HB 1541, which creates the integrated student supports protocol. The Washington Integrated Student Supports Protocol (WISSP) will be a tool districts can use to assess student need, strategically partner with families and community based organizations, and leverage district and community resources. These are important steps in our state’s efforts to address all of the factors that impact student achievement, but more can and should be done as we invest in 2017. This could include funding professional development for school staff in cultural competency, trauma-informed practices, and social emotional learning; funding family engagement coordinators for schools; and investing in continued implementation of the WISSP and SEL benchmarks and standards.

Investing in student supports, both academic and non-academic, and providing student access to services through staff, state investment, and partnerships can ensure that our McCleary investments will improve student outcomes.

#Beyond Basic

 

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System