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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 11, 2010

“The perfect marriage,” says Bailey
Co-teaching thrives as special-needs students are clustered in classrooms

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Special-education teachers are pushing into regular elementary-school classrooms in a partnership that Guilderland educators describe as perfect.

“Co-teaching is the perfect marriage,” Bonnie Bailey, administrator for special-education programs at the elementary level, told the school board Tuesday night. “I personally have a perfect marriage,” she said, “so I know what it is.”

Bailey described general educators as “masters of content,” who are aware of state standards and accountable for all learners. She described special educators as “masters of access” who can adapt curriculum and be accountable for sub groups.

The district’s five elementary schools have an average of 22 classrooms in each building, Bailey said. Each school houses students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Ten to 12 percent of Guilderland’s elementary students have been identified as having special needs, Bailey told The Enterprise.

A decade ago, she said, special-needs students were more evenly distributed; now they are clustered in fewer classrooms so their needs can be met with limited resources. This year, on average, there are three special-education students clustered in classrooms. Next year, the plan is to have six to nine, but no more than nine, she said, “which hopefully helps us use our resources more effectively.”

Previously, students with special needs were pulled out of their regular classrooms to get extra help at learning workshops in the school. With the co-teaching model, which Guilderland began using about three years ago, Bailey told The Enterprise, teachers, instead, “push in” to the classroom.

Currently, special-education teachers collaborate with five or more classes a day, spending an average of an hour in each room, Bailey said, and the goal is to decrease the number of classes so the special-education teachers can spend more time in the classrooms.

Although Bailey told the school board several times that clustering special-needs students would make more efficient use of limited resources, she said yesterday that she had no figures in mind. “We’ve presented to the board before the budget is tackled,” she said yesterday. “It’s not the fiscal that is driving our efforts…We’re just excited about the program model. The model lends itself to collaborating with many different disciplines — not just learning workshop teachers but therapists, and reading and math teachers.”

Bailey concluded, “The model maximizes exposure to the curriculum. It is good for all children, not just children with disabilities.”

Glowing reports from the trenches

 Bailey told the school board that Guilderland teachers are taking “baby steps” in “our journey to get to co-teaching.” Pairs of educators — general and special — from each of the five elementary schools then described for the board some of the steps they have taken.

From Lynnwood Elementary, for example, Heather Kennedy, a learning-workshop teacher, and first-grade teacher Joanne Gabriele described the way they got their students “ready to learn.”

“We talked and modeled what it was like to be ready to learn and what it was like not to be ready to learn,” said Gabriele.

Students drew pictures of what it meant to be ready and not ready. By making the concept concrete, kids understand it, so less time is spent on transitions and more is left for academics and fun, the teachers said.

At Westmere, Reva Kinnally, a learning-workshop teacher, and Tierney Provost, who had been a fourth-grade teacher and is now a math specialist, worked with Mark Bower, whom they described as a “guru.” They had weekly conference calls with Bower and also had online discussions to design writing workshop lessons, grouping students by their interests and abilities.

“You have to really mess with things in order to differentiate your instruction…,” Bower said in a taped session with Guilderland teachers. “That’s what teaching is, trial and error.”

Altamont’s third–grade teacher Annemarie Farrell and special education teacher Kelly Tynan talked about teaching math together.

“The most powerful shift for me was being seen as an equal teacher,” said Tynan. She said she no longer felt isolated but, rather, was part of a community. “If I’m feeling this, I know my students are as well,” she said.

She also said that the building blocks for a collaborative relationship are roles, rules, and responsibility.

At Pine Bush Elementary, special-education teacher Sandra Worona and fifth-grade teacher Beth Whiteman spoke about collaborating on a writing workshop. Worona pushes into Whiteman’s class for a half-hour afternoon writing workshop, which starts with a quick review of the morning’s lesson.

For the rest of the time, the students write, as the two teachers circulate and are able to have one-on-one conferences with the kids, tailoring their teaching to each student’s needs, they said.

“With the push-in model, it eliminates any stigma with being pulled out,” said Whiteman. All of the students learn from their peers, she said.

“This model is superb because it works,” said Worona.

At Guilderland Elementary School, Kim Wethergreen, a learning workshop teacher, and third-grade teacher Kate Tymeson described an hour-long math lesson that the two taught cooperatively. They needed to teach 20 students with a great range of understanding how to add multi-digit numbers.

The teachers assessed the students and found they fell into three groups — three had mastered the concept, 10 had some understanding of the concept, and seven had little understanding of the concept.

Tymeson worked with the three who had mastered the concept, giving them a project they could do independently using a software application, as Wethergreen gave a mini lesson to the 17 remaining students. Then Tymeson rejoined the group and worked with the 10 students who had some understanding as they independently used algorithms to solve problems.

Meanwhile, Wethergreen worked with the seven students — some of whom were identified as special-education students and others who were not — using manipulatives to solve multi-digit problems.

Bailey concluded by telling the school board that five things are essential to a co-teaching model: staff development and training, commitment and investment of staff, an appropriate combination of teachers and teaching assistants, scheduling for efficient use of staff, and planning time.

The session on best practices was completed with the screening of two films — one showing how technology is used in the middle school curriculum, and the other highlighting collaborative instructional models at the high school.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Toured the nearly completed 10 classrooms at the high school, part of the $27 million districtwide project, and heard that the classrooms will be used after the February break.

“The boxes are all packed; the desks are all labeled,” said Brian McCann, the high school principal. Alluding the school’s original alma mater, he also said the new rooms have a view of “the stately Helderbergs.”

Once the classrooms in the old 500 wing are vacated, work will begin on reconfiguring them into the new district offices;

— Heard from Superintendent John McGuire that the district’s website — at www.guilderlandschols.org — has “a great new look”;

— Set tuition rates, based on a state formula, for non-residents to attend Guilderland schools in 2009-10 — $7,059 for primary students and $10,945 for secondary students.

Currently, Guilderland has no out-of-district students paying tuition.

Board member Colleen O’Connell questioned why the rates would be $200 less than two years ago when costs have increased and state aid has decreased. McGuire said that, while schools have no control over the state formula, they can decide whether or not to accept students;

— Approved two change orders, paying Tri-Valley Plumbing & Heating an additional $29,440 for work related to radon remediation at the high school;

— Appointed 16 volunteers to the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee. Thirteen are returning members — Linda Bakst, Donald Britt, Jennifer Charron, Donald Csaposs, James Denn, William Goergen, Walter Jones, David Langenbach, Michael Lerch, Lisa McLachlan, Lynne Retajczyk, Carmen Valverde, and Catherine Wilson.

Three are new members — John Dempsey, Roger Levinthal, and Deborah Marcil.

The first meeting, which will be a board workshop, is on Feb. 25. Anyone who wants to volunteer may contact the superintendent;

— Adopted policies on preventing cyberbullying and cyberthreats, students’ personal electronic devices, a drug-free work place, and staff substance abuse;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that Cassi Lin, a Guilderland High School senior, is one of 300 students nationwide to be selected as a semi-finalist for the Intel Science Talent Search; Lin and the school will each receive $1,000.

Lin submitted a research project titled, “Resveratrol Induces COX-2-dependent Apoptosis in Human Ovarian Cancer Cells.”

Forty finalists will compete in March in Washington, D.C. for the top award of $100,000;

— Learned that senior Erin Kelly had an essay published in the Scholastic Athletic Magazine on a national conference she attended;

— Heard that Mary K. Weeks, who teaches art at Westmere Elementary School, is participating in The Sketchbook Project, organized by the Art House Co-op in Brooklyn. Her sketchbook on the topic “How to Save the World” will travel to Brooklyn, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Chicago before being housed as part of a permanent collection in Brooklyn;

— Learned that Trisha Zigrosser, an art teacher at Altamont Elementary School, is working with her students and the Guilderland Public Library on a project to raise money for Haiti. Students are studying mandalas, concentric diagrams that have spiritual significance for Buddhists and Hindus. Many students have chosen to auction off the mandalas they made. Their work, and Zigrosser’s, too, will be displayed at the library next week and a silent auction will be held throughout February;

— Received a draft of a 185-day calendar for next year. Students would start school on Friday, Sept. 10, since Sept. 9 would be a holiday for Rosh Hashanah; and

— Met in executive session to discuss a personnel matter.

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