The Auburn Transition Leadership Institute, part of the Auburn University College of Education, held a Transition Leadership Academy June 8 – June 10. The Academy offers assistance and guidance to transition practitioners and administrators as they set goals and develop plans to improve outcomes for students with disabilities in their secondary schools.
“Transition” is a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that focuses on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child who is transitioning from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.
“This summer we welcomed approximately 100 special education teachers, special education coordinators, principals, vocational rehabilitation counselors, job coaches, career technical education administrators, parent representatives, and other transition stakeholders to Auburn for our three-day event,” said Karen Rabren, Director of the Auburn Transition Leadership Institute.”
The Academy provides an excellent forum for sharing and exchanging ideas among participants, who come from school districts all around the state. The agenda provides ample opportunity to discuss issues particular to any school district, whether it is located in a rural or more urban area.
“What these professionals have in common is a powerful devotion to the students and families they serve,” Rabren said. “They are truly the best example of what we here at Auburn call our ‘school partners.’ I find them inspiring.”
Rabren said the Institute addresses five specific federal indicators, with goals to:
- Increase graduation rates;
- Decrease dropout rates;
- Increase parent involvement to improve services;
- Assure that transition Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) include coordinated, measurable goals and transition services; and
- Increase percentage of students who have been competitively employed and/or in postsecondary school within one year of leaving high school.
The general format of the Academy is to have subject area experts address the attendees in larger sessions, and then have “Teams” from particular school districts explore the best way to collaborate to achieve the established goals.
Jan Bowen, a special education coordinator from Ozark, said the opportunity to collaborate is very important. “I have learned about services within our district that I was not aware of before coming here,” she said. “Each school and district is unique, often depending on geographical location, and I feel we will be much better coordinated as a district after working together here as a team.”
Typically, students must transition out of the school system at age 21. Several participants said about half their students enter the workplace, while the other half continue their education.
“But even those who do not go to work or continue their education can benefit tremendously from our special education services,” said Walt Stepchuck, a special education teacher who works with the team from Pickens County in southwest Alabama. “Our area is very rural and sometimes these children just go back home or help on the farm. But the students learn and grow in their time with us. And the parents appreciate what we are doing! An often overlooked upside of our work is that we just help the students become more independent and capable in their life skills. That’s a rewarding part of the job in itself.”
Another special educator, Kimberly Clark, agreed. “Our relationship with the family is very important,” she said. “A lot of these parents work two jobs and cannot meet us until late afternoon or evening, so it’s not unusual for us to go to their homes and administer tests and have counseling sessions right there in the house at night. I have a mobile printer and I can do it all right there in the home. We do whatever it takes because these students are that important to us.”
These are concerned and dedicated teachers and counselors who want their students to become independent, to learn self-advocacy skills, and to do everything they can to succeed at life. Their emphasis is on ability rather than disability.
Rabren agrees. “These are some of the hardest-working, most dedicated people in our school systems,” she said. “They arrived Sunday afternoon and stayed late working into the night. They were up early Monday and hit the ground running. These professionals are here because they want to be here and learn all they can about how to maximize their resources and help the students in their school systems. The idea of taking the summer off does not register with this group. They are on a mission to serve.”