Who is the Diverse Learners Cooperative?
Two years ago, a Nashville non-profit commissioned me to conduct a needs assessment around special education in Nashville’s charter schools. The aim was to determine primary strengths and challenges of local charters in meeting the needs of students with disabilities and propose a potential mode of support to grow best practice in this regard.
The needs assessment found that: 1. Nashville charters are serving students with disabilities at rates close to that of traditional district schools. 2. The most apparent needs of schools in supporting compliant and effective special education programs fell into three categories: money, talent, and communication. These gaps could likely be said of any area of school programming — but as it related to special education:
- Money, not enough of it and difficulty determining where to allocate these limited resources. The Tennessee funding model provides less than $1800/student with disability of additional monies per year – regardless of disability. While some portion in the BEP formula is earmarked for special education, it is very little and requires schools to reach into other categories to fund a base level of programming for students with disabilities. (Specific funds for EL support is even more limited.)
- Talent, difficulty in recruiting new, retaining current, and providing ongoing support to develop teachers of diverse learners throughout the year. Nearly every school surveyed had current openings for special educators several months into the school year and/or mid-year vacancies to fill. Many teachers interviewed reported a need for specialized support opportunities – relevant professional development, special education experienced coaches, and full school training that incorporated special education as a connected part of the model.
- Communication, or lack of it with other practitioners, district leaders, and folks with the needed answers. So many questions and so little time to track down answers that match, stay in the know with changing policies, and opportunities to collaborate with others. Very few leaders and teachers knew about special education programming or fellow student support practitioners in other charters or traditional district schools.
In thinking through an approach that would provide relevant support to schools – their leaders and their teachers – in expanding best practice for students with disabilities, the Diverse Learners Cooperative was born.
We envision a time when all children of diverse abilities and backgrounds will have access to a high quality, inclusive education preparing them for college, career, and life success. Our mission is to empower teachers and leaders to achieve authentic compliance, develop innovative solutions, and deepen meaningful collaboration to realize this vision.
Our work toward this aim has included the support of 16 school + network teams and several supporting organizations to provide:
- Vision setting and priority alignment
- Program review and recommendations
- On site and collaborative professional development opportunities
- Ongoing leader and teacher coaching
- Professional Learning Community (PLC) facilitation
- Strategic implementation of improved support systems (RTI, intervention services, compliance procedures, behavior supports, EL service models, etc
In the past 9 months, we have hosted over 300 participants in PD sessions, answered hundreds of Slack messages with questions related to diverse learners, and spent nearly 1500 hours in schools as facilitators, coaches, observers, and thought partners. These efforts have been continually praised by school leaders and teachers as transformative for their support of diverse learners. We are positive that students with diverse needs are being served in more appropriate settings with more aligned interventions and by better equipped teachers than a year ago — and our efforts will continue until this is true for all.
Partner with the DLC today. Want to partner with the DLC to increase your best practice for diverse learners? Want to support this mission?