After I put my daughter on the bus this morning, I'm heading over to the Board of Education meeting to offer my "Public Comment." I don't know if this is a good idea or not. I usually speak about the proposed budget every winter, but I've never spoken to the BoE in any other context. And it's not the public speaking part that has me bothered. I'm nervous that what I have to say will somehow come back to bite me on the butt, or worse, it'll bite my son on the butt.
I'm actually going to speak in support of an agenda item (an agenda item that I think is simply a formality and doesn't need support). The problem is that I have to take this opportunity to raise the board's awareness that everything isn't hunky-dory, and the agenda item -- the Vision/Mission/Goals 5-Year Plan -- while not new, is the foundation for the changes my son needs. I really, really dislike saying anything negative even in combination with something positive.
What I have to say is this:
I usually come to you [the BoE] for the budget cycle, but when I saw the Mission/Goals 5-Year Plan agenda item, I knew this was the time to talk with you. There’s a lot of important information in the document, but I was struck once again by this critical statement: “Accept no excuses, educating ALL with rigor, relevance, respect, and positive relationships.” That’s not a new concept, but it does have an important context for me.
You know my story: I have a son with Asperger’s who is now doing really well in the STEM program. He's getting the academic rigor that he needs. Everyone understands the need for rigor. However, the social and organizational pieces are much more difficult to understand and fit into the educational model. The truth is that without social skills and organizational skills, my son won’t be able to get and keep friends, to get and keep a job, to get and keep a wife. He won’t be able to become an independent member of the community.
You know my story, but you don’t know the choice we’ve had to make. My son could be in the Autism Program getting the supports he needs but not getting the academic rigor. My son could be in the STEM Program getting the academic rigor but not getting his social and organizational needs met in a consistent, intentional manner, and having the additional constraint of having accommodations only as long as "they don’t compromise the rigor of STEM." It’s a choice between getting his academic needs met or getting his special needs met: We chose to meet his academic needs. In effect, we chose the least inappropriate placement of what’s available and not an appropriate placement. It’s the relevance part of “educating ALL with rigor, relevance, respect, and positive relationships” that we’re missing.
I'm not here to gripe, and I don’t mean to put anyone down. I love the Pathways to Education that have already been created by the Superintendent and the BoE. I’m here to support the Vision, Mission, and Goals as outlined in the Agenda for this meeting. My son needs the school system to “know the learner and the learning,” and to have that translate into a program that addresses both sides of him. Approving the Vision, Mission, and Goals may be just a formality today, but it offers the hope we need that one day soon, we won’t have to choose which needs to address.