Interviewed by Julie Camerata, Executive Director of the DC Special Education Cooperative
This week, EmpowerK12 released its 2022 Bold Performance Schools report, highlighting DC schools that are serving high-priority students, including students with disabilities, well. We sat down with Rosee Ragin, Executive Director of Student Support Services at Paul PCS, whose middle school was named a 2022 Bold Performance School.
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Questions and answers edited for length and clarity.
What does support look like for students with disabilities at Paul PCS?
We look to support all of our scholars and not put them into subgroups. All students have continuous learning plans, not just our students with disabilities. And that exemplifies our approach at Paul: How can we set up the systems, supports, and teams to support all students and not lead with labels?
How does that play out for the adults?
Professional development has to be a priority for everyone. We have instructional specialists across all content areas to support teachers. And at Paul, SPED is a content area (as is ELL). So that instructional specialist is focused on developing special education teachers and ensuring strong co-teaching relationships between special and general education teachers so that both root Universal Design for Learning in their craft. Our special education teachers meet weekly with their coach. They are observed regularly. They get feedback regularly. Our idea is to help everyone get from good to great.
You’ve been a leader at Paul for a long time. What are some of the big shifts you’ve seen?
One of our biggest successes I’ve seen at Paul in my 11 years is the move from feeling like a segmented school to one where we need to serve all students and all students should be served with data, response to the data, and appropriate interventions.
Change starts at the leadership level. It’s not special education versus general education. The person that I work most closely with is the Executive Director of Schools. We’re attached at the hip. She had to develop me on the priorities of general education students; and I had to develop her on the needs of our special education students.
We had to get out of our lanes and collaborate. Our special education-focused instructional coaches are on the instructional team because they are focused on instruction. They are not siloed into a special education team. I collaborate with them all of the time. Once we made that shift, we had to collaborate to get support and instruction aligned. We’re in the room together. And we never talk about scholars, without thinking and talking about all students.
Our titles reflect our all-means-all mentality. Because our jobs aren’t just special education. We have a Manager of Compliance and Support, not a Special Education Manager of Compliance and Support. I’m the Executive Director of Student Support and everything I do is about supporting all learners.
How are you innovating for student learning this year?
We’re doing Virtual Fridays, focused on interventions where all scholars are online in small groups. Some students may be focused on their specific goals, IEP-related or not; some students may work with social workers; some students are in math interventions.
What are your goals for this year?
First, we want to nail Virtual Fridays and make sure our targeted support to students is based on their needs and that we can course-correct and celebrate as needed. Second, we want to make sure we have a universal approach to scholars that need intervention and a way that everyone can support that. For me, that starts at Tier 1. We do a monthly data dive to make sure our Tier 1 instruction is strong. Finally, we want to lean into developing how case managers support our students. Our data shows our scholars need more, and so we’re leaning into developing our people even more. We want to get tighter on knowing when the data is telling us to create a plan and when it is telling us to go back to instruction. We want more early identification of needs and the ability to quickly provide the right tools, supports, and structures.
Rosee Ragin is the Executive Director of Student Support Services at Paul PCS.