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Advisory committee urges board toward equitable education for all students

"Creating inclusive schools requires strong, committed, knowledgeable, visionary collaboration."

That was the slogan you found when you read the back of the blue shirts members of the Student Services Parent Advisory Committee wore when they gave their annual update to the school board Nov.18.

SSPAC is made up of several subcommittees, all with different functions but the same goal of connecting families of students who experience disabilities in Lake Oswego with resources, events and each other to benefit all students.

The subcommittees include Welcome to My World, Parent Outreach, Smart Start and Bob Barman Inclusive Educator award.

The committee shared some successes from the past year. One was organizing several Welcome to My World events, the latest of which were held in September and November. Welcome to My World is a disability awareness program designed to create empathy in kids without disabilities by showing them what living with a disability is like. This year they streamlined training for volunteers by putting all training videos on Youtube, so parents had easy access.

The Smart Start subcommittee held its annual event as well. The event is held just before the start of the school year and it creates a process by which students with Individualized Education Plans or 504 plans can meet teachers and visit buildings before school starts to ease the transition into a new environment.

They also presented several continuous challenges they see to inclusive education in the district including attitudes on disability, physical barriers such as ADA accommodations, narrow curriculum, teachers who are not properly trained or not willing to be trained, and a lack of presumed competence.

"We're finally, I feel like, moving in the right direction, but like we said in the presentation, it's been at a glacial pace and unfortunately there are some kids in the system who don't have that time to wait," SSPAC chair Becky Owens said.

SSPAC asked the board members if they had any questions and received virtually nothing but praise and admiration.

"We've made movements and we have open ears here because of the work and the advocacy that you have done so thank you so much for that," board member Kirsten Aird said. "Please don't stop because that's what we as a board need: your honestly — whether we like to hear it or not — the inconvenient truths, the reminder that this is a law. They're hard conversations to have but we don't get better as humans and we won't get better as a district unless you hold us accountable to that and then work with us."

Board member Sara Pocklington said, "As far as what more could we possibly ask from an advisory committee: no. You guys are setting the highest bar for what this construct looks like."

Superintendent De la Cruz added, "My least favorite words in education are 'we've always done it this way.'"

She thanked them for their care for all the students in the district as said, "The truth is, as much as we appreciate all of your input, we need to — as a staff— roll up our sleeves and get to work. We are putting the groundwork in place so we can provide what our community needs."

Board Vice Chair Liz Hartman recognized the strides the district has made in the past five years.

"We have leadership from the top that says 100% of the children can learn, we have a board that says 100% of the children can learn and our next step is to get an entire teaching force that says 100% of the children can learn," Hartman said.

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