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How I Teach
May 24, 2019
I changed careers to teach at a Bronx school for students with severe disabilities. Here’s what I wish people knew about my students — and job.
In our feature How I Teach, Danielle Felicissimo describes how she changed careers for a job she loves: teaching at a Bronx school for students with severe disabilities.
model of inclusion
December 14, 2017
New York City is placing students with disabilities in mainstream classes. But do they actually feel included?
Feelings of inclusion vary widely by disability type.
June 9, 2016
City unveils new report cards for schools serving high-needs students
“Some of them could and should be more nuanced, but I think they’re valuable nonetheless,” said Maggie Moroff, a special education expert at Advocates for Children.
May 17, 2016
New York’s special education district gets a new leader and a charge to blur its borders
Students with disabilities have been funneled into traditional classrooms, what happens to the programs that were initially designed only for those with the most severe needs?
November 18, 2015
For students with severe disabilities, New York must do more to see if schools measure up
Lori Podvesker explains that parents who have children in District 75 programs need more information about individual schools to make informed decisions.
Updated November 13, 2015
Under de Blasio, no measures of success or failure for schools serving the neediest kids
Together, the schools enroll as many students as the city of Buffalo. Yet they have not received public report cards in two years.
avoiding the space wars
March 6, 2015
After pushback, Bronx charter replaced with D75 school in co-location plan
The earlier P.S. 277 co-location plan never sat well with parents and staff, who testified in January that it would mean giving up a valuable technology room.
December 18, 2013
Common Core test for students with disabilities raises concerns
Special-education teacher Rachael Goeler argued that the state has not adequately adapted the Common Core standards for students with severe disabilities during a recent…
February 21, 2013
Return of yellow school buses brings relief and new challenges
Assistant teacher Miguelina Valeria takes attendance as students exit the bus at Manhattan's P721 Wednesday. Five weeks ago, what happened at P721 in Manhattan on Wednesday would not have seemed extraordinary: Yellow buses pulled up by the main entrance and assistant teacher Miguelina Valerio took attendance and greeted students as they headed into school. But after a bus drivers' strike that lasted over a month, the yellow buses marked the end of nightmarish commutes for many parents and, for many students with special needs, a long-awaited return to class. P721 is a District 75 school that provides occupational training to high school students. During the strike, Valerio said, only 70 or 80 students came to school each day out of a student body of 200. “More than half the students were missing,” she said. “Little by little they’re coming back.”
January 30, 2013
City turns down school bus drivers union's offer to pause strike
Striking bus drivers picketed outside the Department of Education's headquarters at Tweed Courthouse on Monday. A union proposal to suspend the city's two-week-old school bus strike temporarily got a swift rejection this week from city officials, who said the plan would block cost-cutting measures for over a year. The bus drivers union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, called a press conference today to announce that the city had turned down its proposal for a two-to-three month “cooling off” period during which drivers would return to work and the city would not solicit bids for new transportation contracts. The union called the strike because the city is not including seniority protections for current drivers in the new contracts' terms. In a mediation session organized but not attended by the city, union president Michael Cordiello met on Monday with Justice Milton Mollen, who brokered an agreement to end the last bus strike, in 1979, and representatives from several major bus companies.
January 16, 2013
Even as some buses roll, families struggle on strike's first day
Kayley, a student at Central Park East 2 (with head turned), traveled to school with his mother today. He took a city bus instead of a yellow bus because of a strike by school bus drivers. Families across the city contended with unfamiliar transportation routes, incomplete information, and bad weather to get their children to school this morning, the first during a strike called by the bus drivers union. Most bus drivers did not report to work today to protest the city's decision not to extend seniority protections to current drivers when opening bids for new contracts with bus companies. Their union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, also picketed outside some bus depots, in some cases briefly impeding non-union bus companies from operating, and released a television ad that paints new bus drivers as dangerous. But the Department of Education said 40 percent of buses actually did roll today, including 100 percent of routes serving children in prekindergarten. Those bus drivers work under contracts negotiated last year. Just 12 percent of routes for students in general education were running today, while 60 percent of routes serving students with special needs were disrupted. Preliminary data showed strong attendance citywide, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced at a city press conference where he praised parents for "being really focused on getting their kids to school." But he said attendance at District 75 schools, which serve the city's most disabled students, was down by about a quarter today.
June 13, 2012
Principal wears multiple hats to run special education school
Principal Ava Kaplan in her office at special education school, P186 in the Bronx. On a sunny Friday morning, the hallways in a Bronx school buzzed with excitement as students prepared to celebrate their prom in the first floor cafeteria, which had been converted into a disco-themed dance floor. Principal Ava Kaplan greeted a group of P186's eighth graders as parents, teachers, and other administrators hovered over them with cameras. Everyone gathered around to cheer the 29 students who, because of serious cognitive and physical disabilities, are part of the school's alternative assessment program. Kaplan bent down and waved one hand across her face. “Beautiful,” she said in sign language to a girl in a white lace dress. The prom is a welcomed break in Kaplan’s busy schedule – running a special education school requires the Bronx native to take on additional responsibilities than a district school principal would because of the extra support her students require inside and outside of the classroom. Now in her fifth year as principal, Kaplan's no-nonsense attitude helps her oversee the large special education school, which has five campuses, 542 students, and more than 200 staff members. The Bronx school is under the umbrella of the Department of Education's District 75, which encompasses all of the city's special education programs for students who have autism, cognitive and physical disabilities, hearing or speech impediments, and other serious issues that make it difficult for them to regularly attend a district school. As principal, Kaplan's duties often extend beyond the walls of P186. Some days, Kaplan is a social worker; other days, she’s a guardian. And everyday she’s a demanding boss who expects her staff to keep up with the complicated responsibilities that come with caring for some of the city's most challenged students.
May 18, 2012
At the Queens High School of Teaching, a model of inclusion
Like most seniors at the Queens High School of Teaching, Sabrina Alphonse takes a range of academic classes, had a blast on her senior trip, and is starting to plan her future. But Alphonse is different in one key way: She is not technically a student at the school. Instead, Alphonse, who is wheelchair-bound, attends Q811, the District 75 school for severely disabled students sited on QHST’s campus. All city schools include students with special needs in some way. Many have self-contained classes that serve only students with disabilities. Others operate some classes where special education and general education teachers work together to serve both kinds of students. But few are “fully inclusive,” as QHST is. Full inclusion means that every student with special needs who is admitted to QHST is educated in the same classroom as general education students. There are no self-contained classes. It also means that students such as Alphonse, whose disabilities are so severe that they are enrolled in District 75, taking classes alongside general education students and joining in with all of the QHST’s day-to-day activities, clubs, and programs. About three dozen Q811 students are enrolled in QHST classes, but all of the District 75 school’s students can participate in the high school’s extracurricular activities, and many do. QHST is not just different because of how it has included students with special needs. Its success with them is also substantially different. Across the city, only a little more than one in four students with special needs graduates from high school in four years. At QHST, it’s well over 70 percent — not far off the school’s overall 88 percent graduation rate.
February 28, 2012
City releases ratings for teachers in charter, District 75 schools
The Department of Education released a final installment of Teacher Data Reports today, for teachers in charter schools and schools for the most severely disabled students. Last week, the city released the underlying data from about 53,000 reports for about 18,000 teachers who received them during the project's three-year lifespan. Teachers received the reports between 2008 and 2010 if they taught reading or math in grades 4 through 8. When the department first announced that it would be releasing the data in response to several news organizations' Freedom of Information Law requests, it indicated that ratings for teachers in charter schools would not be made public. It reversed that decision late last week and today released "value-added" data for 217 charter school teachers. Participation in the data reports program was optional for charter schools and some schools entered and exited the program in each year that it operated, with eight schools participating in 2007-2008 and 18 participating in 2009-2010. At the time, the city had about 100 charter schools. The department also released reports for 50 teachers in District 75 schools, which enroll the city's most severely disabled students. The number is small because few District 75 students take regular state math and reading exams. Also, District 75 classes are typically very small, and privacy laws led the city to release data for teachers who had more than 10 students take state tests. District 75 also teachers received reports only in 2008 and 2010; the program was optional in the district's schools in 2009. Department officials cautioned last week that the reports had high margins of error — 35 percentage points for math teachers and 53 percentage points for reading teachers, on average — and urged caution when interpreting them.
February 22, 2010
City trades one plan to re-locate disabled students for another
The city is swapping a plan that would have relocated nearly 100 disabled students to a new building for a plan to disperse the students into special education programs throughout the city. Under the Department of Education's original proposal, roughly two-thirds of the students at P.S. 138, a school for severely disabled students, would have moved to share space with the American Sign Language and English Secondary School, a middle and high school that gives admissions preference to deaf students. That plan was scrapped after P.S. 138 parents and elected officials protested that the new site posed safety risks and that students would not be able to get around the school easily. Some parents are saying that the department's new plan is not much better.
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