Aurora has seen an increase in high need student populations. To serve its population of English Language Learners, immigrant and refugee students, and students with disabilities, APS can and should be using the funds of knowledge available throughout the Aurora community. APS can also look for examples locally and nationally of schools that are serving similar populations effectively and adjust those models to fit the Aurora context.
Choosing international leadership as the theme for the innovation zone indicates that the people involved in designing the innovation zone wanted the theme to reflect the large population of immigrant and refugee students. Crawford Elementary School, for example, is hosting a program where families share information about their educational history and experiences with school in their home countries.
Though APS included community groups, families, teachers, and other stakeholders in the process of designing the innovation plans, the input of those stakeholders did not necessarily get incorporated into the final plans. The Arc of Aurora, which advocates for students with disabilities, engaged in the Zone Design process. Few innovation plans reflected the Arc’s commentary and feedback. In a letter to the school board, the Arc wrote: “While we understand no document can cover all needed areas of focus, we believe that due to the large percentage of students requiring Special Education Supports (between 6-14% at any given school), along with Federal and State protections for students with disabilities, the plans should have at a minimum had a more deliberative approach to assuring consideration of their needs and the implementation of such measures.”
There is enormous value in drawing from the knowledge of the communities served in Aurora schools, but only if that knowledge impacts the final product. The Arc of Aurora raised insightful questions about the innovation plans that other groups and individuals may not have thought about without the Arc’s input. Invested advocates, community members, and stakeholders can challenge and push district and school-level planning processes to be more inclusive of the needs of specific communities. And, when it comes time for implementation, those same critical friends can help ensure that communities continue to engage and support these plans.
- Refugee and immigrant students have a wide range of needs depending on their context and community. APS can work to address the variety of needs through partnerships with outside organizations that serve, are run by, and deeply understand communities about which schools might not have a high level of knowledge. The perspective of these communities provides indispensable insight as APS charts a path forward.
- Look to districts and schools that have demonstrated success with ELL, refugee, and students with disabilities. Find best practices.
- Two Massachusetts schools that are meeting state goals for closing achievement gaps and that are effectively and thoughtfully serving large populations of English Language Learners and refugee students are:
- Reward and spotlight Aurora schools that demonstrate excellent outcomes for high-needs student populations in addition to complying with state and district requirements.
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