By Melissa Katz
Inclusion: We Must Get There
It’s 6:00pm on a Saturday and I’m sitting on a flight back to New York after three days of intensive professional development about inclusion. As the Charter Center’s Program Manager of English Learner Supports, I’m constantly on the lookout for the best educational practices around recruiting and supporting English language learners. This trip took me to CHIME, a well-known and successful charter school in Los Angeles that started as a Pre-K for students with moderate to severe disabilities. Eventually, their successes and parent demand skyrocketed and the school grew to serve Kindergarten through 8th grade with plans to expand to high school.
It’s impossible to reflect on my CHIME experience without using what seems like hyperbolic language. The inclusive mindset that CHIME staff demonstrates is amazing. The Executive Director’s knowledge of national research and best practices is exceptional. The school’s immensely positive interactions with parents are remarkable.
When immersed in CHIME, it is actually quite easy to believe that an inclusive mindset is natural and achievable. Every staff member at CHIME firmly believes that all students can learn and that CHIME is the best school for all students. There is not one student who looks at CHIME and thinks, “That school isn’t for a kid like me.” When I break down what makes that possible, it’s everything that I think most people would agree makes a great school overall: effective leadership, consistent school-wide systems, community support, and quality teachers. Their “secret sauce,” it turns out, is not so secret.
However, back in New York, no longer basking in CHIME (and L.A.’s) warmth, the inclusion I witnessed in California starts to feel very remote. NYC schools, charter and district alike, have not mastered this approach, and I begin to wonder, can NYC public schools create inclusive education environments without fundamentally changing their models? The answer, I think, is that they cannot. There is no pre-packaged approach. Unless a school started out with inclusion as its primary mission – the way CHIME did – school leadership must now invest time, money, and effort, likely over many years, to develop an environment that is inclusive of all students.
Inclusion should and must be the standard for which all schools strive. We at the Charter Center are fully committed to helping NYC charter schools get there.
Interested in joining the Collaborative’s Inclusive Schools Initiative?
This blog is part of a series from the Charter Center’s Special Populations team.