Center Based Programs Review Final Report Released

Grand Rapids Public Schools/Kent ISD Statements on the Center-Based Special Education Report by Independent Reviewer Beth Steenwyk

From GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal:

“I would like to thank Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff and all the local superintendents for coming together to support the students, parents, and staff at the center-based special education programs.

The results of the report presented by Ms. Steenwyk further validate and confirm the results of our own 2016 Center-Based Special Education Program Review.

When I hired Laura Lamore as my executive director, she and I knew the deep-rooted, systemic, and long standing challenges within the center-based special education programs. While I commend her and her leadership team for the significant strides they made, it became clear to me that no one district can transform these programs. It requires the collective commitment, support, and dedication of every school district and  Kent ISD. This is why we asked  Kent ISD to assume governance and operation of these programs.  We believe this is in the best interest of Grand Rapids and all of the 20 districts served by Kent ISD.”

From Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff:

"GRPS has shouldered the enormous responsibility of operating these programs alone on behalf of 19 other districts while simultaneously meeting the challenge of implementing exceptional programs for its own K-12 students.  We agree that it takes a collective effort. It is an extremely heavy lift for any single district to operate these programs by itself.  That is why most programs of this sort are operated by intermediate districts across Michigan.

Kent ISD welcomes the opportunity to administer these programs in collaboration and partnership with all 20 local districts within our ISD, as we do with the other student programs we operate.

A special thank you goes to the parents and staff who provided input into the review.  As we embark on the transition of these programs to Kent ISD, we are especially grateful to the Grand Rapids Public Schools for the high degree of professionalism they’ve provided in serving students with special needs throughout our county since the inception of center-based programs decades ago. The sole purpose of this review was to provide a lens by which we can improve and we will use this report as a foundation to grow going forward.”


Forward

A review of the Kent ISD special education center-based programs was commissioned by the Kent Intermediate Superintendents Association in the spring of 2018. The study was intended to develop a pathway to enhance the educational experience of students being served within center-based programs. The pages that follow reflect the review conducted by Beth Steenwyk, the consultant hired to complete this project.

The significance of this report is that it provides a framework to move forward. Five key “pillars” to improve our center programs are found on pages 5-6. These include:

  1. Development of a unifying core mission and a requisite set of guiding principles
  2. Alignment of the guiding principles to fundamental and explicit expectations of staff performance and instructional practices
  3. Safe, secure and well-maintained learning environments
  4. Consistency across all programs in the use and implementation of curriculum aligned to high quality, evidence-based standards with customized professional development for staff, and
  5. Rigorous and purposeful use of continuous school improvement processes

It would be wrong to attempt to use this report to find fault or assign blame. The staff operating and administering these programs are very dedicated. The report reveals, however, that a thorough review was overdue. These programs have operated under a structure that was created several decades ago in a very different era. Our largest school district within the county has long shouldered the responsibility of operating center-based programs for 19 other school districts in the county while also delivering high quality programs for its own K-12 students. Layering the responsibility of providing educational programing for our most unique and complex learners from 19 other school districts on top of the demands of providing exceptional programs for its own students has been a very heavy lift, and for far too long that school district has been doing it alone.

The operation of center-based special education programs by intermediate school districts is common elsewhere in Michigan but it has not been the practice in our county. This will change beginning July 2019. Kent ISD welcomes the opportunity to administer these programs since we are accustomed to operating other instructional programs that serve students from all 20 local districts within our ISD as well as the public school academies within our borders. This report provides a foundation from which we can grow as we take these programs on.

A special thank you goes to the parents and staff who provided input into this report. As we embark on the transition of these programs to Kent ISD, we are especially grateful to the Grand Rapids Public Schools for the high degree of professionalism they’ve provided in serving students with special needs since the inception of center-based programs decades ago.

Respectfully,

Signature of Ron Caniff
Ron Caniff
Kent ISD Superintendent


Kent ISD Center Based Program Review

January 2019 by Beth A. Steenwyk

Introduction

A review of the Kent ISD Center Programs was commissioned by the Kent Intermediate Superintendents Association in the spring of 2018 and by late summer the Grand Rapids Public School Board had voted to turn over operations of all Center Programs to Kent ISD. This review, although initially prompted by parent and staff concerns, has become a unifying effort to improve services for nearly 1,400 students with complex learning needs from throughout Kent ISD. To date there have been numerous opportunities for stakeholder involvement through personal interviews, Town Hall style meetings and Focus Group meetings.

The final component of this review process was to conduct a series of full day onsite visits to each of the programs. These visits included observations of building routines, conferences with the building Principal and key staff, building orientations, program walk throughs, classroom observations and an all staff meeting at the end of the school day. Each visit followed the same protocols and utilized a Quality Indicators for Center Programs rubric (Appendix). The rubric examined specific focus areas and will be described in depth later in this report. 

Specific findings and recommendations for each program will be addressed in separate documents; the incorporation of these recommendations into respective school improvement plans is strongly advised. Program implementation plans will be developed, and implementation supports will be provided using key elements of current research around effective implementation practices within educational settings. Program improvement and implementation plans will be accessible after each program has been given an opportunity to be included in the development process and provide input on priority areas, action steps and alignment with other improvement efforts.

A substantial condition of the agreed upon deliverables of the Center Program Review process was a final, comprehensive report of the findings of the Program Review and Observation process. Thus, the remainder of this report will focus on areas of critical importance to the future of Kent ISD’s Center Programs: 

  • Description of program visits
  • Impressions of the current situation
  • An overview of critical concerns and aggregate of findings related to Program Observations
  • Recommendations for county wide collaboration efforts for young children and post school age young adults
  • Recommendations for a county wide educational services for complex learners
  • Recommendations related to individual program reports
  • Recommendations for system supports for implementation efforts and long-term sustainability, and
  • Summary

View the full report

Appendix - Evaluation tool from Beth Steenwyk