This past Saturday, Dr. Paul Yellin and two representatives from the Hamilton Central School District in upstate New York, presented to attendees of the New York State School Boards Association Annual Convention in New York City.
Diana Bowers, Superintendent of the Hamilton Schools, outlined the steps her district took together with The Yellin Center and our colleagues at All Kinds of Minds, to move to a Response to Intervention model of addressing students' learning needs well in advance of the New York State deadline for implementing such a program. Response to Intervention, often called RTI, is one way that states such as New York are moving away from such concepts as "normal learner" vs. "learning disabled" and from offering support services only to students whose academic performance is not in line with their scores on standardized tests, such as IQ tests. Instead of the older model of intervention, often called the discrepency or "wait to fail" model, RTI looks at how children who are struggling respond to various academic interventions. If an initial array of classroom supports (Tier I) is shown to be insufficient, the student will move up to Tier II, small group instruction in the areas in which he or she is struggling. If that does not work, the student will be evaluated for a more complete understanding of his or her learning needs and implementation of additional supports and services (Tier III) .
Although many of the initial steps in determining which children are not responding to the general classroom curriculum and differentiating instruction for these children "are what good teachers are doing all the time," Dr. Bowers noted, she also spoke about the need for a unifying approach throughout each school and the entire district. That led her to seek training for her staff from All Kinds of Minds, and eventually led her to inviting Dr. Yellin to work with some of the most complex students in the district, first at our New York City offices and later in Hamilton as part of a week long training of Hamilton staff by The Yellin Center. Dr. Bower's presentation was followed by remarks by Peggy O'Connor, District Coordinator of Special Education, and by a discussion by Dr. Yellin of how the use of the shared vocabulary of learning and an understanding of the ability of the brain to change with appropriate interventions made early recognition of learning challenges so important.
The audience of school superintendents, building principals, and guidance staff was deeply engaged, with lots of discussion, questions and follow-up, many of which were focused on how they can bring the same effective techniques to their own districts.