A Forum for School Leaders

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1 ONLINE SPEECH THERAPY FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP Joe Pacheco, Director of Student Services at Leadership Public Schools Shawn Whitney, Director of Special Education, Edison Charter Academy INTRODUCTION: THE COMMON CORE AND THE SLP By Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP I am sure it is no surprise to you that the number of students enrolled in charter schools is soaring. In fact, over the past several years we have seen exponential growth. In the last decade, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools has more than quadrupled from 300,000 to 1.6 million. In 2010, five percent of all public schools were charter schools. Many charter schools have an informal reputation as a haven for children with special needs. Certainly the needs of charter schools for special education services is at least as great as in the conventional public schools, but many think the need is greater. Effective inclusion for students with special needs is a particular strength with many charter schools because they provide innovative learning opportunities. Founders of charter schools use unconventional approaches to curriculum, but they have to stay within the law as well. So, special education is sometimes a square peg in a round hole that we need to fill in a different way. Most advocates agree that in order to address their student s needs, charter schools will need to provide special education services in new and different ways. As the data shows, we have growing enrollment in charter schools and innovative approaches to serving students. At the same time, there is a growing demand for speech language therapy to serve charter school students, and a number of issues that are impacting the delivery of these services. Charter school leaders are painfully aware of challenges they share with traditional school districts. Among these are the critical shortage of qualified SLPs and the need for more flexible scheduling to be able to meet individual needs of a diverse group of students. Charter schools have unique challenges delivering special education services, but they also have some opportunities. Eddie Goodall, who leads the North Carolina Charter School Association, put it this way. We have some special challenges. The cost for special education services can t be shared among a large population. Scalability is an issue for our charters. We need a broader network of professionals to enable us to deliver service to a diverse student population when they need it, but our charter schools also have an opportunity to collaborate and to share special education costs and resources. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

2 Robin Lake, who leads the Center on Reinventing Public Education, has been studying special education in charter schools for the last two years. She is the author of a great new book on this topic, Unique Schools Serving Unique Students. We asked her for her perspective on the interest in online speech therapy for charters. Robin said, We recognize the positive impact that charters can have on the entire field of special education, to experiment, to innovate and advance the knowledge of new approaches for helping exceptional children succeed. In addition to the perspective of these two national experts, we also have the view of two charter school special education administrators. Joe Pacheco, of California-based Leadership Public Schools says because they operate charter high schools in four geographic areas approximately 50 miles apart, it has been a real challenge to find added coverage for services they need. Joe and his team looked to the use of online speech therapy services as a way of dealing with the geographic issues. Shawn Whitney, who oversees special education at Edison Charter Academy in San Francisco, says because they have just one site and a relatively small number of students in need of speech and language services, it is difficult to find a service provider willing to work just a couple days a week. That situation prompted Shawn to start looking outside the box to get the best services for her students. Right now, using online speech therapy is doing wonders for them. School administrators know that when it comes to implementing new technology, especially in an educational setting, there are four areas that we have to pay attention to. First of all, we need to train the staff and the users. We need to train them both in the use of the technology and then also about the program itself. Secondly, we have to think about the technology. The technology has to work and it has to be set up correctly. Third, there has to be support available, because we know technology doesn t always work the way we want it to. Finally, we have to think about the set-up -- the physical location and the educational technology -- and how they all work together. We need to consider how we put it all together to make the online experience most beneficial to our students. ONLINE SPEECH THERAPY FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS: A FRONTLINE PERSPECTIVE By Joe Pacheco, Leadership Public Schools and Shawn Whitney, Edison Charter Academy Let s explore the experience of two special education leaders at charter schools who have implemented online speech language therapy. For Shawn Whitney of Edison Charter Academy, the technology was the difficult start-up hurdle because her school had a very slow Internet connection. When she started the online service last year, they experienced delays between what the speech therapists were saying and what the students were hearing. They worked with the tech department and got some grant funding that enabled them to increase the Internet speed and now are having wonderful results. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

3 Another struggle for Shawn when her school was beginning to implement online therapy was getting the kids to and from class to the room that is set up for online therapy. For safety reasons, we don t allow the kindergartners through third grade to be on campus by themselves, so we had a hard time monitoring the transition during the first year of using the online service, she said. They hired a part-time staff member who is at the school Monday, Wednesday, Friday, the same days as the online services are being provided. As a result, everything has been very smooth. Joe Pacheco also had some struggles with Internet speed. After upgrading their network (what did this involve? New equipment or a call to the provider?) they have had no problems at all with the technology. For his staff and students, very little training was needed. Joe says, The system is so simple to operate and high school students receiving online speech language therapy are so familiar with technology that they are the ones who train the staff how to use it. They have been able to schedule a lot of their students who are receiving online services into a guided studies class. And since many them are also research (resource?) specialist students, they have them scheduled into a class that coincides with their placements. This facilitates them moving from place to place without difficulty. Joe says that logistics will be the main issue for people to consider when they are coming aboard with online speech therapy. Shawn agrees that logistics can be a challenge. Scheduling services can be difficult when you are working with a large number of teachers, she says, Communication between the speech language therapist and the school staff is the solution. Both Joe and Shawn have seen the ease-of-use of the technology evolving. And, as location issues are solved and their students become more comfortable with the process of going to the service, they expect things are going to get even better. Charter school administrators have a number of questions about how online speech therapy is integrated with general education and the staff. How does the remote online SLP fit in and become an active part of the IEP team? How can you mix online speech therapy with the general curriculum? How do we involve parents and teachers and keep the online service from being its own separate entity? Joe Pacheco reports that the online SLPs that serve their charter school students have been very successful using to engage the general staff, the classroom teacher and other instructional staff. The SLP also communicates via and phone with the resource specialist. They all have a very good working relationship with the online SLP. Shawn agrees. The online SLP that works with her students uses and also calls and speaks to teachers, especially the newer teachers. At Edison Charter Academy, they have quite a few first year teachers on campus who have many questions on how to support students with speech and language issues. The online SLP is always willing to spend some time on the phone and sends activities that follow up on the services provided during the online session, Shawn says. The remote SLP uses to send follow-up activities to the teachers and often times to the parents as well. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

4 At Edison Charter Academy they have the RTI (response to intervention) component and qualified tutors in that program piggyback on activities done during online speech therapy. Some students spend 5-10 extra minutes during the RTI time working on speech-related activities provided by the online therapist. School administrators considering any new approach, especially something that is as important as speech language services, appreciate peer advice. We all want to avoid problems and get up to speed smoothly. Shawn again reflects and provides advice regarding transition needs, wishing she had been better prepared. She doesn t see this as a problem for older students. For grades 4-8 they provide passes to the teachers and the kids come to services on time and there is no issue. For kindergarten to third grade students, getting them to and from the online services room was difficult at first, and as a result, they missed some services. But now with the extra part-time staff to assist, things are going well. The other advice from Shawn is to address scheduling as soon as possible, ideally before school starts and to have a schedule worked out at least a week in advance. Joe says that his students have been very comfortable with the service. He had one student who was embarrassed about having online speech therapy; but when Joe had a conversation with him about his concern, the student said he didn t like going to see the live therapist either. Joe is using a live SLP at some sites and online therapists at others, and when comparing the use of one to the other he finds that they are both excellent in providing service and he says, It just comes down to a matter of availability, money and logistics! 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

5 About The Authors Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP is a Professor of Speech-Language Pathology and Dean s Associate for Graduate Studies and Research at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has taught undergraduate and graduate coursework in language development and disorders, phonology, counseling, literacy, and clinical experiences for 15 years. Dr. Robertson has been an ASHA member for thirty years and is a two-term past-president of the Pennsylvania Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Dr. Robertson is a well-known speaker on a variety of topics across the country and internationally, including as an invited presenter at numerous ASHA Conventions, ASHA Schools Conferences, and ASHA Health Care/Business Institutes. Joe Pacheco, Director of Student Services at Leadership Public Joe Pacheco is the Director of Student Services at Leadership Public Schools. Prior to his role as Director of Student Services for California-based Leadership Public Schools, Mr. Pacheco was Principal of LPS Campbell High School. Among administrative positions he has held for public schools, Joe was Program Specialist for Special Education for the Santa Clara County Office of Education. He also served in the Oak Grove School District for 12 years as a Speech and Language Pathologist. He received his undergraduate degree from San Jose State University and his Master s in School Administration from the University of San Francisco. Shawn Whitney, Director of Special Education Edison Charter Academy Shawn Whitney is the Director of Special Education at Edison Charter Academy. Shawn joined Edison Charter Academy in 2010 after ten years of teaching, including five years teaching students with learning differences and emotional disturbances at an Arizona high school. She holds a Bachelor s of Elementary and Special Education from Northern Arizona University and a Master s Degree in Secondary Education from the University of Phoenix. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

6 About SPED Ahead SPED Ahead is an opportunity for school administrators and special education specialists to catalyze discussions about new ideas and promising practices that help exceptional students achieve. With a series of free interactive online events and related multimedia webbased resources, we will explore answers to tough questions and shape effective leadership strategies for addressing special needs students challenges for literacy skills, scholastic achievement and peer relationships. About PresenceLearning At PresenceLearning, we love to see children thrive, which is why we are making the promise of live online speech therapy (sometimes called telepractice) come true. With the ongoing shortage of SLPs (speech language pathologists) and budget pressures in school districts reaching crisis proportions, innovative modes of delivery have become essential for giving children the speech therapy services they need. A large and growing body of research, starting with a seminal study by the Mayo Clinic in 1997, demonstrates that live online speech therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy. Our mission is to make live online speech therapy practical, affordable and convenient while providing an extraordinary therapy experience for each child. The PresenceLearning solution includes: access to our large and growing network of top-notch SLPs the latest video-conferencing technology the most engaging games and evidence-based activities time-saving collaboration and practice management tools targeting SLPs and educators Join the growing group of SLPs, educators and parents committed to seeing children thrive as part of the online speech therapy revolution. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

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