Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S16)

she coordinates special education services for students with low-incidence disabilities for six school districts. Over 33 years in that job, her curiosity and passion have led to changes locally and statewide in how educational interpreters are certified, how children with autism are educated, and, most recently, how children with traumatic brain injury are taught. And she’s done so while answering to the six separate school boards, special education directors, and superintendents that pay into the Shenandoah Valley Regional Program for Special Education, the quasi-governmental program that she directs. Over the years, her responsibilities have grown from 48 students across the six rural districts and a budget of $1.5 million to 350 students and $10 million in funding support. Her only staff is a secretary. Among the work Sorrell is most lauded for is in the autism arena. More than a decade ago, she saw that parents across Virginia were suing school districts because the schools weren’t meeting the needs of their children with autism. Many districts struggled or failed altogether to provide the right kind of therapy and education to such students, namely in the form of applied behavior analysis. AbA is a specific approach to working with children and adults with autism that is designed to change behavior. “I didn’t think that was wrong,” Sorrell says of the parents’ legal action. “The school divisions did not have the knowledge or capability with respect to behavior analysis to work with these children. The more I read, the more I knew we needed to move in that direction.” Doing It ‘Proactively’ Without any in-house expertise, Sorrell partnered with Commonwealth Autism Services, a Richmond, Va.-based organization that provides training for school districts by embedding its staff in districts, where they model techniques for teachers and therapists. “Other people have been involved in lawsuits and litigation about this kind of therapy and come in after the fact” to provide it, says Jessica Philips, the organization’s vice president and chief operating officer. “Judy did it proactively,” she says, noting that Virginia only began requiring health insurers to cover AbA therapy in 2012. “She really, really wants the program that she runs to be top-notch quality. She believes that parents should be able to get services in their public school. If those kids are academically and socially more on track, they are more likely contributing members of society,” Philips says. “At the gut of it all for her was, ‘What’s good for kids?’ ” Sorrell’s work was mentioned in a state legislative committee’s report assessing autism services in Virginia as an example of a successful collaboration. The six districts began in 2004 with one embedded behavioral analyst. Now there are 10, including some who were teachers in the districts and have since become certified in the approach— which Sorrell found money in her budget to pay for. “Building local capacity, that’s just really critical for me,” Sorrell says. “I think it’s been a lifesaver for our local school divisions.” That building of local capacity sometimes includes herself. Earlier this school year, Sorrell studied to become a brain-injury specialist. Traumatic brain injury can affect cognitive function, motor skills, the senses, and emotions. “You have to have a way to meet the needs of those kids,” says Sorrell, who remembers hearings about the precursor to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act held at Madison College, now James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., when she was a student there in the 1970s. “We don’t make 100 percent [of parents] happy,” she says, “but we have the responsibility to make sure we’re providing an appropriate program.” n S16 | > DISTRICT-UNION PARTNERSHIP Cynthia M. Stevenson SUPERINTENDENT Jefferson County Public Schools, Colo. Kerrie Dallman FORMER PRESIDENT Jefferson County Education Association BY STEPHEN SAWCHUK A s anyone who has ever sat at either side of a bargaining table can attest, the labormanagement relationship is already challenging enough in flush times. And it’s an order of magnitude tougher when budgets are tight and talk turns to paring things back. But as one Colorado district shows, it is not impossible for district and union leaders to work together to make tough decisions. When the state’s Jefferson County school district faced a budget crunch in 2011, officials of the district and its teachers’ union purposefully decided to take a chance and collaborate, rather than engage in the common alternative: posturing, internal squabbling, an impasse, and, ultimately, layoffs. Superintendent Cynthia M. Stevenson and Kerrie Dallman, then the president of the Jefferson County Education Association, hosted an “employee summit” at which representatives from the district, the union, and other employee groups outlined budget fundamentals, agreed on areas to cut, and then carried the details into their respective bargained contracts. The accord kept employees on the rolls, minimized class-size increases, and preserved electives. And it has been generally (though not uniformly) praised in the 85,000-student district, located west of Denver. The new approach to budgeting in Jefferson County, the state’s largest district, is notable partly because the administration and the union, while not sworn enemies, had had their fair share of uneasy moments. Contract talks had stalemated before, both over wages and over policy issues, such as the LEADERS TO LEARN FROM EDUCATION WEEK • February 6, 2013 process for dismissing probationary teachers. But the budget situation, Stevenson says, demanded a different way of interacting. “We are just like every other place in the country: changing,” she says. “And in a changing environment, in times of declining resources and increased expectations, you have to operate differently.” Put to the Test Stevenson, who has been the superintendent for 11 years, understands change in the district better than most. She grew up in Jefferson County and attended school there. Dallman only recently left the local union to assume the presidency of the state’s National Education Association chapter; her biography on the state affiliate’s website lists her collaborative work on the summit among her top accomplishments. The idea for the summit grew out of a 2011 national conference on labor-management cooperation sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. That convening, in Denver, brought together some 150 teams, each consisting of a district’s superintendent, school board president, and teachers’ union leader, to try to identify new ways of working together. For a good number of the attendees, the notion of collaboration never went further than a group photo with the U.S. secretary of education. But for Jefferson County’s leaders, the ideal would be put immediately to the test. Midway through the conference, team members received word that the state portion of K-12 aid would be cut by nearly 10 percent. Jefferson County’s rev-

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report

Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report
Dropout Reduction
English-Learner Education
School Turnarounds
Rural Enrollment
Special Education
District-Union Partnership
Parent Engagement
School Climate
College Readiness
Digital Access
Social Networking
Student Discipline
Smart Growth
Stem Education

Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report