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October 1, 1992
Vol. 50
No. 2

How One District Integrated Special and General Education

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By eliminating labels, redefining roles, and promoting student participation, the Winooski, Vermont, School District has moved away from a dual system of education.

Instructional StrategiesInstructional Strategies
You will not find “gifted” students in the Winooski, Vermont, school district, just students. You will not find special education teachers, simply teachers.
With emerging evidence of the inadequacies of separate programs—and the benefits of educating students with moderate and severe disabilities in their local schools—many have proposed eliminating the dual system of general and special education (Stainback and Stainback 1984, Thousand and Villa 1990a, Villa et al. 1992, Williams et al. 1990). The Winooski District has spent the last decade doing away with that dual structure, dramatically changing organization, instructional practices, and relationships among adults and students. Now, all children in our community, including those with moderate or severe disabilities, receive their education in general education classrooms and community settings.

Redefining Roles

One important aspect of our change was our effort to eliminate categorical labels traditionally assigned to students, staff, materials, rooms, instructional procedures, and behavior management practices. We distributed to all staff members job functions usually performed by special educators (Villa and Thousand 1988). And we created a single job description—“teacher”—for all professional educators, including classroom teachers, special educators, guidance personnel, and speech and language pathologists. The job description explicitly states that all teachers are expected to collaboratively plan for, teach, and share responsibility for even the most intensively challenged or challenging of the community's children.
Some administrative roles and responsibilities also have been redefined. Traditionally, personnel and services for guidance, health, gifted and talented, special education, and early childhood were separate departments. For a period, they were united into a single department of Pupil Personnel Services, with the former special education administrator becoming director of the new department (Villa and Thousand 1988).
This arrangement had its limitations, though. The clearly specialized nature of Pupil Personnel Services limited people's perceptions of the department. They still viewed its personnel as separate from the total educational program. Consequently, we dissolved the department. The staff members joined the general faculty of either the elementary or secondary schools, and the director became Director of Instructional Services, responsible for facilitating the inservice program for all teachers and paraprofessionals, observing and assisting teachers with their annual individual instructional improvement goals, and managing support service paperwork (Cross and Villa 1992).

Teacher Collaboration

Educators who expect children to support and respect one another in heterogeneous educational groupings must model similar collaboration (Thousand and Villa 1990b). Today, the majority of the Winooski School District's staff are members of such teaching teams.
Any adult or student can be a member of a teaching team. Team members agree to coordinate their work to achieve common, publicly agreed upon goals. The teams base their processes on the collaborative principles of cooperative group learning (Johnson and Johnson 1987).
Winooski educators consistently identify collaboration and teaming practices as the cornerstones of their success. This new arrangement of instructional resources has benefited students and teachers through improved instructor/learner ratios and an ongoing exchange of knowledge, skills, and materials.

Empowering Students

  • Students instruct other students in peer tutoring, cooperative group learning, and adult/student teaching team arrangements.
  • Students determine instructional accommodations for a classmate with intensive challenges.
  • Students act as advocates for peers in Individual Education Plan (IEP) or transition planning meetings.
  • Students provide social support to a challenged classmate by being a “peer buddy” or as a member of the classmate's Circle of Friends (Forest and Lusthaus 1989).
  • Students coach their teachers, offering feedback regarding the effectiveness and consistency of their instructional procedures.
  • Students serve on school committees (for example, the Discipline Committee).
Collaborative arrangements such as these have promoted integrated education for intensively challenged students, active participation and problem solving by students, equity and parity among students and adults, and a spirit of community in our school (Villa and Thousand 1992).

The Future

Winooski has only begun its journey in restructuring for diversity. The district still maintains a number of traditional practices and relationships that can inhibit quality heterogeneous educational experiences for children. But improvement plans for the immediate future include the extension of teaming models to the high school, and secondary level teachers are reorganizing the master schedule so they have more team teaching and planning opportunities. The peer tutoring program will be expanded in the middle and high schools. And school personnel are discussing the idea of transitioning students to their next grade in May rather than September, allowing students and teachers to adjust to one another and to the new curriculum and routines before the summer break. As part of this proposal, seniors would spend their last six weeks of school in community service activities that would be included in their graduation portfolio.
All of Winooski's changes have been an outgrowth of educators' desire to provide excellent and equitable education for all children. Everyone in the district is now familiar with, and expects, change. This seems fitting, since “realistically ... in the education business ... change is the most stable thing on which we can depend” (Patterson et al. 1986, p. vii).
References

Cross, G., and R. Villa. (1992). “The Winooski School System: An Evolutionary Perspective of a School Restructuring for Diversity.” In Restructuring for Caring and Effective Education: An Administrative Guide to Creating Heterogeneous Schools, edited by R. Villa, J. Thousand, W. Stainback, and S. Stainback. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Forest, M., and E. Lusthaus. (1989). “Promoting Educational Equality for All Students: Circles and Maps.” In Educating All Students in the Mainstream of Regular Education, edited by S. Stainback, W. Stainback, and M. Forest. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Johnson, D. W., and R. T. Johnson. (1987). Learning Together and Alone: Cooperation, Competition, and Individualization (2nd. ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Patterson, J., S. Purkey, and J. Parker. (1986). Productive School Systems for a Nonrational World. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Stainback, W., and S. Stainback. (1984). “A Rationale for the Merger of Special and Regular Education.” Exceptional Children 51: 102–111.

Thousand, J., and R. Villa. (1990a). “Sharing Expertise and Responsibilities Through Teaching Teams.” In Support Networks for Inclusive Schooling: Interdependent Integrated Education, edited by W. Stainback and S. Stainback. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Thousand, J., and R. Villa. (1990b). “Strategies for Educating Learners with Severe Disabilities Within Their Local Home Schools and Communities.” Focus on Exceptional Children 23: 1–25.

Villa, R., and J. Thousand. (1988). “Enhancing Success in Heterogeneous Classrooms and Schools: The Powers of Partnership.” Teacher Education and Special Education 11: 144–154.

Villa, R., and J. Thousand. (1992). “Students as Collaborators: An Essential for Curriculum Delivery in the 21st Century.” In Curriculum Considerations for Inclusive Classrooms: Facilitating Learning for All Students, edited by S. Stainback and W. Stainback. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Villa, R., J. Thousand, W. Stainback, and S. Stainback. (In press). Restructuring for Caring and Effective Education: An Administrative Guide to Creating Heterogeneous Schools. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Williams, W., R. Villa, J. Thousand, and W. Fox. (1990). “Is Regular Class Placement Really the Issue? A Response to Brown, Long, Udvari-Solner, Schwartz, Van-Denventer, Ahlgren, Johnson, Grunewald, and Jorgensen.” Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps 14: 333–334.

End Notes

1 Staff development, discussed further in Cross and Villa 1992, was a crucial aspect of our change. From 1985 to the present, staff members have participated in many training events ina variety of formats.

Richard A. Villa is President of Bayridge Consortium, Inc. His primary field of expertise is the development of administrative and instructional support systems for educating all students within general education settings.

Villa is recognized as an educational leader who motivates and works collaboratively with others to implement current and emerging exemplary educational practices. He has been a classroom teacher, special education administrator, pupil personnel services director, and director of instructional services, and has authored 19 books and more than 120 articles and chapters.

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