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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
United in inclusion
Creating conditions where change was most likely to happen
By Patty Metheny | May | June 2023
True inclusion is that sense of belonging that resonates without being called out. You just feel it. It is being comfortable to be your natural self. It is just being accepted so that you thrive. What allows a child to feel they belong in a classroom, on a campus, in school? How does this magic happen?
The East Valley SELPA, in partnership with the Supporting Inclusive Practices project, began the journey of achieving inclusion for students with disabilities in earnest the fall of 2020. As the recipient of a small SIP grant, East Valley SELPA brought together district and county office colleagues to embark on the journey. EV SELPA partnered with Chief of Equity & Access for San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Cherina Betters and Kristin Brooks, executive director of SIP along with leaders, both general education and special education administrators, from all of the SELPA’s member districts. While the journey continues, this is their story.
The SIP project vision is “for every student to be educated in an environment that is intentionally designed, equitable and inclusive.” That is a mighty vision! The EV SELPA partnership leaders came together and formed the EV SELPA SIP Leadership team to embrace the vision, but they immediately faced a roadblock. While they recognized their leadership mattered and they were committed to change, they knew bringing the vision to life meant changing hearts and minds as well as building and implementing models that could be scaled up across the many schools in the SELPA. This is where Brooks and the SIP project were instrumental. She brought to the partnership leaders an opportunity to take a deep dive into understanding how to change systems through a book study of “Change the Culture, Change the Game” by Roger Connors and Tom Smith.
In the yearlong book study (yes, it continued during the global pandemic!), understanding was developed around how experiences and beliefs produce actions and results. District leaders had to “see it and own it” to “solve it and do it.” Shifting cultures required the partnership leaders to create conditions where change was more likely to happen. Calling out inequities, naming them for what they were, and purposefully identifying and building different practices was the reality of what needed to be done and still needs to be done. It is no small feat. It is ongoing. Betters was and is instrumental in doing so. She spoke honestly and eloquently as a parent of a student with a disability in one of the SELPA member district schools. She often mentioned the multifaceted lens she holds as a parent, teacher and administrator serving students and families from this vulnerable population.
During 2020-21 and 2021-22, we found the partnership leaders, some of whom were new to the team, and fully committed to expanding inclusive opportunities across the SELPA. They set specific, measurable goals to do so. Some LEAs started big and rostered all of their students with disabilities to general education classrooms. Some began by including students with disabilities in co-taught general education classrooms. Others ensured that students with disabilities were in their home schools. All accessed many of the SIP project trainings for teachers and staff as well as brought parents on board. All worked closely with SIP project team members to identify and address specific needs. Providing training and ongoing support has been critical.
The EV SELPA SIP Leadership Team also developed a SELPA-wide recognition program, the East Valley SELPA United in Inclusion Ribbon, to recognize schools within the SELPA making progress toward inclusion. Awarding of the ribbon will begin in 2023. What EV SELPA SIP Leadership Team is aiming to do with this inclusion ribbon is to continually hold a high standard for student achievement that honors the experiences of students in our school system while being mindful of the cultural and social components that help shape their sense of self-concept and deep knowing that they belong in the school and greater community.
There are four tiers of recognition aligning with the SIP Blueprint for Inclusion to envision, build, implement, scale up and pay forward the strategies that will allow the schools of the EV SELPA to make the term “inclusive education” obsolete because it will be embedded in our culture.

Patty Metheny is Chief Administrator at East Valley SELPA.
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