The Impact of SWIFT Technical Assistance

Recently, we had an opportunity to look back at the outcomes of this technical assistance, publishing our findings in a special issue of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability (AAIDD) journal ‘Inclusion.’  To complete this special issue, researchers culled through SWIFT data in each domain (i.e., policy, administrative leadership, family and community engagement, integrated education, and multi-tiered systems of support).

SWIFT Education Center began providing technical assistance to schools, districts, and states in providing equitable, inclusive supports to all students in 2012.  The initial funding for SWIFT, provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) occurred at about the same time the U.S. was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the landmark education law, P.L. 94-142, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA).  The law was groundbreaking in that it prioritized educating students with disabilities in inclusive, general education settings, with the supplementary aids and services they need to succeed in these settings.  Since then, research overwhelming supported the effectiveness of inclusive education for students with and without disabilities (see SWIFT Shelf for a bibliography of supporting research).

Yet progress in transforming schools, which traditionally separate and segregate learners with disabilities from general education settings, to deliver inclusive support and education has been slow.  As a consequence, millions of students are taught outside of general education settings for at least part of their school day on a regular basis.  In light of these trends, SWIFT Education Center works to provide sustainable, systemic change across state, local, and school levels towards inclusive education for all students.

Recently, we had an opportunity to look back at the outcomes of this technical assistance, publishing our findings in a special issue of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability (AAIDD) journal ‘Inclusion.’  To complete this special issue, researchers culled through SWIFT data in each domain (i.e., policy, administrative leadership, family and community engagement, integrated education, and multi-tiered systems of support).

Findings across these domains showed a positive impact of SWIFT technical assistance on all measured outcomes.  In the policy domain, Mary Schuh, Kimberly Knackstedt, Jake Cornett, Jeong Hoon Choi, Dan Pollitt, and Allyson Satter found participating states, districts, and schools made progress in implementing inclusive policy that aligns across federal, state, and local levels.  In the administrative leadership domain, Elizabeth Kozleski and Jeong Hoon Choi examined how implementation of the administrative leadership domain of SWIFT impacts leadership performance and educator support systems implementing within schools.  The family and community engagement domain was equally promising, with Judith Gross, Jeong Hoon Choi, and Grace Francis finding positive family perceptions of engagement and partnership with schools following implementation of SWIFT.

Wayne Sailor, Amy McCart, and Jeong Hoon Choi, studied the impact of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS), and found preliminary evidence of the effectiveness of this model on student academic and behavioral outcomes, as well as the impact of SWIFT implementation on rates of inclusive education.  Similarly, I found, along with colleagues Mary Morningstar, Tyler Hicks, and Jonathan Templin, that rates of school inclusion increased over the years of implementation of the SWIFT model.

Together, the research findings present a detailed account of the many positive impacts of SWIFT implementation on students and families, and provide directions for further areas of research and support for promoting equitable inclusive school services for all students.

Photo of blog author.Jennifer Kurth is an Assistant Professor in the Special Education Department at the University of Kansas. Her research focuses on inclusive education for learners with low-incidence disabilities who have extensive and complex support needs.

Cover of FIA

Where do you even begin? Begin with SWIFT-FIA

Recently, I was having a conversation with a local school district representative about the SWIFT Education Center and the services we provide to support equity-based inclusive education. As usual, I got a little caught up in my impassioned plea about why all students should participate in and make progress in the general education curriculum. I started rambling on about the research to support inclusive educational practices and the inherent inequity of segregation for students with disabilities. Suddenly, the representative stopped me and said, I understand “why”, but I don’t know “where” to start. She asked me, “what do you do to support districts who believe in inclusive education, but aren’t there yet? Where do you even begin?”

This conversation reminded me that just believing inclusive education is the right thing to do is not enough to make it happen. State, district, and school leaders may want to, and even believe they should, implement inclusive practices but knowing where to start can seem daunting.

Implementing equity-based inclusive education is not as easy as just moving students from one placement to another. Moving students from a segregated classroom to a general education setting does not ensure students are meaningfully participating in and making progress in the general education curriculum with their peers. Too often I see students with disabilities moved from a segregated classroom just to be segregated again within a general education classroom. When a student is sitting in the back corner of a classroom with a paraeducator working on something totally unrelated to the work his or her peers are doing, then the student is not really experiencing the full benefits of inclusion. But, if moving students out of segregated settings isn’t enough, then how do school leaders know what supports need to be in place to ensure true equity-based inclusion is achieved?

The SWIFT framework helps answer this question with ten research-based features that compose the building blocks of inclusive education. SWIFT provides technical assistance and resources to guide implementation of each of the features—but even the most efficient school teams would be hard pressed to tackle all of the features at once. Therefore, schools need guidance on which components of each feature to prioritize during the transformation process.  Luckily, SWIFT has a tool for that.

The SWIFT Fidelity Integrity Assessment (SWIFT-FIA) is a self-assessment used by school leadership teams to examine their implementation of SWIFT framework features. SWIFT-FIA helps school-based teams engage in conversations about what components of each feature they currently have in place. These conversations help teams pinpoint where they are in the stages of implementation for each item. SWIFT-FIA is scored on a 0-3 scale representing these stages: 0 = laying the foundation, 1 = installing, 2 = implementing, and 3 = sustaining schoolwide implementation. To score a SWIFT-FIA, a school leadership team reviews the components of each item and reaches consensus about which elements of the item are currently in place. If the school has not started installing any components of the item, they can begin laying the foundation by discussing the degree to which the item meets the needs of their school and exploring options for implementation. If the school has action plans in place and is implementing some components of the item, they are in the installing stage of actively putting the item in place. Installing may include action items such as identifying key personnel responsible for carrying out the task. If a school has all of the item components in place and is actively working to refine and improve them, the school is in the implementing stage. When a school has all of the item components in place and is actively monitoring implementation to continuously improve practices, they are in the stage of sustaining schoolwide implementation.

By self-assessing stage of implementation across SWIFT features, school leadership teams gather valuable data to guide implementation of inclusive practices. SWIFT-FIA provides a roadmap to teams that feel overwhelmed with where to begin. The results of SWIFT-FIA can be used to identify and prioritize practices for transformation or continuous improvement, develop action plans needed to install and implement practices, and to reflect on the effects of action plans on practices. Teams may choose to use the data to identify strengths in items they are currently installing. They can then leverage their strengths to refine and improve their current practices. On the other hand, teams may choose to use the data to identify the next steps needed to install items that are priorities but not yet in place. SWIFT-FIA gives teams the information they need to guide these implementation decisions.

Even though school transformation can be complicated, my answer to the question of “where you even begin?” is simple: You begin with SWIFT-FIA.

SWIFT-FIA is available at A SWIFT-FIA tracking tool may be used to capture results and graph changes over time and is also available at

If you are interested in learning more about how SWIFT-FIA can be used by your school or district to guide implementation of equity-based MTSS, contact SWIFT at

Photo of blog author.Allyson Satter currently works as a Project Coordinator for SWIFT. Previously, she worked as a special educator, which is where she first learned the value of equity-based inclusion.

How a SWIFT-FIT assessment benefits your school

Hi, I am Dan Pollitt and I work at SWIFT Education Center. I’d like to introduce you to a tool that can help your school and district leadership teams make well informed decisions about how they implement equity-based Multi-Tiered System of Support, or MTSS, for inclusive education.

SWIFT-FIT—which is short for SWIFT Fidelity Implementation Tool—is an assessment organized by SWIFT domains and features and composed of 58 items that are each scored as 0-1-2-3. To date, more than 100 trained assessors have conducted more than 350 of these assessments to help teams measure the degree to which they implement practices that promote equity and excellence for all students.

I am excited to announce that we are launching SWIFT-FIT Version 2.0, updated to reflect the most current research and practices in the field and applicable to PK-12 settings.

A SWIFT-FIT assessment is conducted by a trained, external assessor who visits your school during typical school hours. Throughout the day, this assessor interviews administrators, classroom teachers, school staff, district leaders, students, and family and community members. The assessor asks a range of questions about such topics as how you use Universal Design for Learning (UDL), ways teams collect and use student data, how students are included with peers, and whether family and community members are involved in school governance decisions. To award a high score on each the assessor looks for evidence of the practice implemented across the whole system, without “siloes” that limit access to general education curriculum and activities for any student subgroup.

Because SWIFT-FIT is a system-levelassessment, it measures the degree to which practices are structured, formalized, and in place throughout the school system, rather than haphazard, unstructured, or ad-hoc. Let’s use an example: Take the practice of using universal screeners to collect student data. What is a universal screener? Even if you are not an educator, you are probably familiar with universal screeners! For instance, when you visit the eye doctor, you are asked to read a chart to briefly test for poor eye sight or areas of need. Schools use universal screeners in a very similar fashion: All students are asked to complete them multiple times per year, they are relatively short and unobtrusive, and teams use academic and behavioral screening data to make more-informed instructional decisions. When conducting a SWIFT-FIT assessment, the assessor is looking for evidence that the school has the system-level practice of using universal screeners to collect student data and make decisions about which students may need additional or intensified support. Thanks to this system-level approach, the tool is not measuring one individual classroom teacher or one individual administrator, but instead measuring the whole system.

How can assessments help your school and district leadership teams? A baseline assessment can provide a sense of your “current reality” from an independent perspective. This perspective can be used in important conversations about what steps your school and district might take be more equitable and support all students. As your teams make decisions about the advances they plan to make, subsequent assessments are helpful for tracking progress at an item-by-item level. This objective measure can be used in communicating with school boards or other governance bodies, family and community members, and with school educators and staff.

If your team is considering adopting the SWIFT framework for equitable and excellent teaching and learning for all students, I recommend you consider scheduling a SWIFT-FIT assessment with one of our trained assessors as a way to measure your school’s current reality and progress toward your goal for equity and excellence for all your students. Contact us at


Photo of blog author.Dan Pollitt is a research project manager at the SWIFT Education Center and oversees the training and implementation of SWIFT-FIT and SWIFT-FIA fidelity tools. He is a former elementary and middle school classroom teacher and as an adjunct graduate faculty in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas, teaches undergraduate and graduate students. He can be reached @danpollittphd on Twitter.

SWIFT Family and Community Engagement in the Pendleton (OR) School District

About the same time SWIFT began its partnership with the Pendleton School District in eastern Oregon, the district passed a large bond that allowed them to build two new elementary schools and an early learning center designed to welcome and support all students. Washington Elementary School, in particular, shifted geographical boundaries yet remained a neighborhood school for much of the area’s Native American population, which makes up 13% of students in the district and 36% of Washington Elementary’s total student population. Additionally, many of Washington’s students live at or below the poverty level.

Guided by the SWIFT framework’s emphasis on family and community engagement, the district set two important goals: (1) improve attendance of Native American students at Washington Elementary and the Pendleton Early Learning Center; and (2) reduce disruptive behaviors through implementing Conscious Discipline’s Trauma-Informed Practices. The district hired a Native American Family Advocate, who works on improving attendance among the Native American population. In order to create a welcoming sense of community, through this collaborative effort, signs in the building were printed in English as well as two of the tribes’ languages, Umatilla and Weyilletpuu.

The school shifted their response to absences to align with Conscious Discipline routines. Instead of sending a letter warning parents that they were in violation of attendance statutes, the district now sends a postcard “Wishing them well” and then a care basket to the student’s home when they are absent multiple days. Rather than assuming the parents want to keep their child out of school, this approach recognizes the family may be experiencing stressors that make it difficult for the student to get to school. The district also recognizes cultural practices as “off campus learning activities” instead of unexcused absences.

Recognizing the traumatic effects of marginalization and poverty, the school district adopted trauma-informed practices of Conscious Discipline for all K-5 staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, school counselors, principals, and even bus drivers.

The district works closely with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and facilitated a connection to a Conscious Discipline trainer. Tribal HeadStart and YellowHawk Health Center now use this trainer. At the first trainings, parents in these programs recognized the practices their school age children had been learning at school and using at home. This increased the school to home connection for our families from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

As a result of these intentional efforts, the school experienced significant reduction in Office Discipline Referrals (ODRs) – the lowest in seven years. From the 2014–2015 school year to the 2016–2017 school year, Out-of-School Suspensions (OSS) dropped from 72.5 total days to 11.5 days, and the total number of incidents that resulted in OSS dropped from 64 to 10. During the same timeframe, the number of incidents that resulted in In-School Suspensions (ISS) dropped from 41 to 5.

-Julie Smith and Laura Miltenberger

Photo of blog post author.Julie Smith’s educational career spans 18 years. Ms. Smith worked as an instructional assistant in special education after obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance. This sparked a lifelong passion for serving students with disabilities in public education. After becoming a licensed special education teacher with a focus on behavioral intervention, Ms. Smith taught in the Beaverton and then Pendleton school districts for nine years. She completed her Master’s of Science in Special Education at Portland State University in 2004 and obtained her National Board for Professional Teaching Certificate in 2007. Ms. Smith worked as a Teacher on Special Assignment, instructional coaching, before starting her career as Special Programs Director at the district office in 2012. Through her career, she has focused on partnering with general educators and administrators to develop an inclusive comprehensive support system for all students. She recently completed her Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership through Lewis & Clark College.


When I first learned about SWIFT and began reading about the organization’s framework and philosophy, I was immediately struck by the word “ALL” being highlighted in caps in their literature.

“SWIFT provides academic and behavioral support to promote the learning and academic achievement of ALL students.”

Then, I read the words “eliminating silos,” and I was hooked. Equity-based health care delivery to ALL students is my mission. It is no wonder that during a recent day of congressional visits on behalf of the SMART Student Health and Wellness model, three separate colleagues—familiar with the work of SWIFT—immediately noted the similarities between the two.

The SMART Student Health and Wellness Model

SMART stands for Strategies that integrate health and education to Maximize and improve Academic success, Reaching all students to ultimately impact the Trajectory of lives.

In the journey to create SMART, my instincts as a businesswoman guided me, not the traditional perspectives in this arena. As I sought to create a functional business model worthy of truly meeting the needs, I asked these important questions—What problem am I trying to solve? What business am I in? What is my capacity to solve that problem? At what cost to whom and benefit to whom? I reimagined the primary goal of school health—to support doing well in school. After all, success in school is the primary determinant of life trajectory that reflects both long-term socioeconomic success and good health as an adult. Once this true purpose was established, it became my “North Star,” the lens through which all subsequent decisions were made.

Today, SMART has achieved strong proof of concept and replication as a school health solution dedicated to supporting academic achievement through the deployment of Active Access to deliver Active Care to EVERY student. Active Care includes integrative physical and behavioral health care that seeks to screen, identify, and mitigate risks to educational attainment and competencies, while ultimately building life-long health literacy, advocacy, and self-care in students. The SMART approach is operationalized through a strong, sustainable business model, with protocols, tactics, and a data-driven approach to ensure successful delivery and achievement of stated outcomes.

SMART and SWIFT likely share a similar history—individuals that sought to see beyond the glaring surface problems and instead view solutions from a root cause level. The SWIFT framework integrates the elements that allow success for all students, including those at risk of low academic performance and/or with behavioral issues, into the entire student culture for care. Similarly, SMART operationalizes these goals, working to identify the often unknown risks in students who were traditionally believed to have no risks, based simply on the lack of significant, externalizing behaviors.

The history of primary and behavioral health care is to react to symptoms or illness and offer a cure. Acknowledging the well-documented connections between a student’s or school community’s wellness—physical, emotional, and spiritual, and the impact those have on a student’s education—SMART proactively works to ensure the wellness of ALL, instead of reacting to the acute needs of the few. By creating a culture where striving for wellness is the expectation, engaging with providers becomes the norm, de-stigmatizing the need for care, because EVERYONE wants to be well. Within weeks of integrating SMART Student Health and Wellness Centers in a school, silos are broken down by focusing on a common goal—the opportunity for each child to live up to their educational potential. In fact, SMART presumes that all need care that ensures wellness. SMART screens ALL students for wellness and provides customized levels of interventions and care, preventive and acute, solutions-oriented and resiliency-informed, normalizing the seeking and securing of care.

The approach of deploying Active Access dramatically increases the likelihood that those with unrecognized needs will have those needs met, creating the culture and conditions that allow students in need to be identified without singling them out. For example, “Hannah,” an honors student, president of her class, and captain of her soccer team, is silently suffering with text anxiety and poor body image. Traditionally, Hannah’s needs would go undetected in a school care setting that only has the capacity to offer care to those students who are easily labeled as “in need of support services” or has obvious externalizing behaviors. However, with the SMART model in place, Hannah, too, receives wellness care via screenings and the answers she provides during her SMART health survey prompts the behavioral health team to schedule follow-up care. Hannah begins two to three brief treatment sessions to focus on relieving her test anxiety, including mindfulness and meditation techniques and simultaneously commences participating, once a week, in group therapy sessions (during an elective course or lunch) that provide support relating to weight, nutrition, and self-esteem. The positive impact on Hannah’s immediate and long-term outcomes will be tremendous.

Environments that seek physical, behavioral, and spiritual wellness and educational achievement for all create a generation that experiences education and health in the most inclusive manner possible for the best outcomes that every child can dream of: a world where ALL means ALL.

– Melanie Ginn

Photo of blog post author.Melanie Ginn, is the President and CEO of Ginn Group Consulting (GGC), the architect of the SMART model, and collaborating partner with CVS Health. In 2013, the two entities led a thought leadership collaborative and public-private partnership with local stakeholders in Chicago, Ill., to save an existing school health clinic from closure. With funding and intellectual support from CVS Health, Ginn designed the SMART model, based at the flagship location at Sullivan High School and Kilmer Elementary School. The SMART clinics delivered significant increases in consent and utilization levels and by Year Two had supported dramatic increases in academic metrics, including attendance increases of 9%, freshman-on-track jumping from 61% to 88%, and the school ranking moving from a Level 3 (failing with intensive support) to a Level 2 plus (good standing with provisional support). By Year Three, the clinic was consistently reaching 85% of the students with continued improvements in every metric. In 2016, SMART opened two rural sites in conjunction with a University of Alabama cohort, with similar, remarkable results in Year One. In May of 2017, the SMART model was presented at a Congressional Briefing in Washington, D.C., featuring a White Paper outlining the initial formative evaluation conducted and written by Liza Cariaga-Lo, Ph.D., Brown University.

A teacher sits at a table with several kids, who are raising their hands.

Understanding intersectionality is critical to advancing educational equity for all

People have multiple identities and group memberships with which they identify and find meaning. Think about your own identities, such as your profession, race or ethnicity, sex, gender identity, socioeconomic status, whether you follow a particular religion or faith tradition, whether you have a dis/ability* or are non-disabled, your home language, sexual orientation, and where you live or grew up. All of these characteristics—some of which you chose and some of which you did not—shape how you experience everyday life. These identities often determine the extent to which you are afforded privileges that make navigating social systems and institutions (i.e. school, housing, financial, medical, legal, and law enforcement), accessing resources, and exerting personal power or agency within these systems relatively easy or difficult. If your identities place you in various non-dominant communities that are often marginalized in our society, then you likely have to contend with multiple systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, and ableism. These interconnecting systems of oppression have compounding impacts and can cause harm.

As with racism, sexism, classism and ableism—to name a few—exist when institutional and personal policies, structures, practices, and beliefs produce barriers to accessing power and resources based on specific identity markers, which create systems of oppression that marginalize individuals and groups. Intersectionality, a concept defined by Kimberle Crenshaw (1989), describes the social, economic, and political ways in which identity-based systems of oppression connect, overlap, and influence one another. In my own lived experiences as a Black woman with a dis/ability, I often deal with compounded micro- and macro-aggressions relating to my gender, race, and dis/ability.

When we examine the impact of intersectionality in schools, the data are quite revealing. Here are a few findings related to treatment of marginalized students in American schools.

Class and race: Students of color in schools located in dis-invested communities are less likely to receive coursework that is targeted to grade-appropriate standards, reflects higher-level cognitive demand, and is meaningfully engaging and relevant.

Sex and race: A study conducted by Crenshaw, Ocen, and Nanda (2015) examining the experiences of girls in school found that two percent of White girls were subjected to exclusionary suspensions compared to 12 percent of Black girls. The literature suggests that girls of color face higher rates of suspension and expulsion for subjective behavioral infractions. The study revealed that teachers sometimes exercised disciplinary measures against Black girls to encourage them to adopt more “acceptable” qualities of femininity, often related to looks and demeanor—standards that appear to reflect a White, middle-class idea of femininity.

Gender identity, sexual orientation, and race or national origin: Students of color who identify as LGBTQ+ experienced higher frequencies of victimization than White LGBTQ students, based on their race/ethnicity, as well as their sexual orientation or gender non-conformity. (GLSEN, 2015).

Race or national origin, class, and dis/ability: Research cites factors such as race, ethnicity or national origin, language, and poverty play a role in disproportionate representation in special education, as well as in specific special education categories, placement in more restrictive learning environments, and in exclusionary and punitive disciplinary actions. (Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2016).

Educators committed to ensuring educational equity and social justice need to be cognizant of intersectionality and aware of the intersecting oppressions experienced by many of the students they serve.

About a year or so ago, I was co-facilitating a professional learning experience for a group of 50 special educators. The presentation focused on discussing instructional practices for improving the reading achievement of students receiving special education services. My co-facilitators and I shared information about an instructional framework that combined culturally sustaining practices and principles of Universal Design for Learning for improving literacy (Waitoller & King Thorius, 2016). During the session, one of the participants asked, “Why are we learning about culturally sustaining practices, when this professional development is about students with dis/abilities?”

What this educator failed to recognize is the relevance of implementing practices that are responsive and relevant to students’ cultural backgrounds, conflating culture with race. He did not understand that as members of a marginalized community, students with dis/abilities may have shared experiences with other marginalized communities. Not recognizing people with disabilities as a socio-political group, whose voices and perspectives are often underrepresented in curricula and decision-making in our school systems, this educator did not comprehend the importance of including instructional material that represent alternative points of view, experiences, and approaches to problem-solving, characteristics of culturally responsive and sustaining practices, for the instruction of students with dis/abilities.

Considering intersectionality requires equity-oriented educators to rethink interventions for redressing systemic inequities. Educators are called to re-examine and adjust practices that separate problems into discrete challenges facing specific, mutually exclusive groups and thus requiring distinct solutions. This way of thinking leads to solutions that operate in silos and can be ineffective and inadvertently perpetuate other inequities (African American Policy Forum). Equity work is grounded in an examination of how policies, practices, and structures operate with factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and dis/abilities to limit or leverage access to learning opportunities.

Demonstrating a recognition and appreciation of difference is an important step in creating supportive and inclusive learning environments. However, realizing educational equity for all students requires surfacing and redressing the structures, practices, and policies that contribute to inequitable treatment of individuals and groups in historically marginalized communities. As equity-focused educators, we must recognize and honor our own multiple identities and the multiple identities of our students, families, and co-workers. We must examine, call out, and disrupt inequitable policies and actions that operate to form multiple interconnecting systems of oppressions that affect students’ and families’ access, representation, and meaningful participation in quality learning opportunities, and the ability to enjoy positive educational outcomes.

*Dis/ability is used with a slash in this post to signal the social construction of ability and dis/ability—that is, society’s power to construct what is considered to be a disability around social expectations of normalcy and health.


Annamma, S.A., Connor, D.J., & Ferri, B.A. (2016). Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit): Theorizing at the intersections of race and dis/ability. In D.J. Connor, B.A. Ferri, & S.A. Annamma (Eds.), DisCrit: Disability studies and critical race theory in education (pp. 9-32). Teachers College Press: New York.

African American Policy Forum. (n.d.). A primer on intersectionality. Retrieved from

Crenshaw, K., Ocen, P., & Nanda, J. (2015). Black Girls Matter: Pushed out, overpoliced and underprotected. African American Policy Forum, Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Students. Retrieved from

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139-167.

GLSEN (2015). The 2015 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary. Retrieved from

Waitoller, F. R., & King Thorius, K. A. (2016). Cross-pollinating culturally sustaining pedagogy and universal design for learning: Toward an inclusive pedagogy that accounts for dis/ability. Harvard Educational Review, 86(3), 366-389.

For further reading

Duncan‐Andrade, J. (2007). Gangstas, wankstas, and ridas: Defining, developing, and supporting effective teachers in urban schools. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 20(6), 617–638.

Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32, 465–491.

Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2014). What are we seeking to sustain through Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy? A loving critique forward. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 85–100.

Sleeter, C. E. 2005. Un-standardizing curriculum: Multicultural teaching in the standards-based classroom. New York: Teachers College Press

Stovall, D. (2006). Urban Poetics: Poetry, social justice, and critical pedagogy in education. Urban Review 38(1), 63-80.

-Seena Skelton

Photo of blog author.Dr. Seena Skelton is the Director of Operations at the Region III Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center. They provide technical assistance, resources, professional learning opportunities, and conducts research related to equity, civil rights, and systemic school reform. Dr. Skelton has worked in the areas of systems change, school improvement, and educational equity for over 15 years.

Maryland State Spotlight – Queen Anne’s County on the Cutting Edge of Cultural Competence

Queen Anne’s County Public Schools takes an active approach to equity through Cultural Competence. The county’s geographic landscape naturally creates three distinct communities that segregate populations, resulting in inequities. Some families in the school district felt their students’ needs were not being addressed and adequate supports were not in place.

To address the geographic barriers and family concerns, they created a Cultural Competence focus group with school, district, family, and community membership. In addition, the four SWIFT partner schools spread across the three communities identified cultural proficiency as a priority for action planning.  As a result, the district instituted several best practice initiatives as part of a countywide five-year plan focused on equity.

First, district leaders, in partnership with a consulting group, provided cultural proficiency training to top-level administrators. Training included identifying levels of cultural competence and the impact of bias on instruction and student behavior.

Next, each school administrator identified two staff members to serve as Equity Facilitators who would become members of a larger district cadre. The Equity Facilitators (teachers and guidance counselors) completed a series of trainings that set them up as Trainer of Trainers; this model was the most efficient for ensuring that every staff member and every team at every school received the cultural proficiency training.

The consultants, through positive, motivational, and highly engaging strategies, led the cadre through examinations of district-level, school-level, and personal explicit and implicit biases. Conversations were not always easy, but once trust within the group was established, everyone could open up to honesty, truths, and below-the-surface perceptions.

The State SWIFT Implementation Team provided a small grant to help fund the training.

The SWIFT SEA Coordinator and LEA Facilitator were invited to participate in several trainings. Brad Engel, the District’s Supervisor of Student Support Services, took the lead on the cultural competency work. “Much success has been noted as a result of the training,” he said. “The consultants have been able to impact the work in positive ways.”

He went on to share expectations for the upcoming school year:

Equity Facilitators will continue training all staff. They will ensure that Multicultural Education is in every piece of instruction, every day, and in every school. Implementation of Multicultural Education will be a component of teacher observations and evaluations. Supervisors and principals will take note of the dynamics, student grouping patterns, and climate within each class.

QACPS classrooms will have equitable learning for every child. The district will continue to look at subgroup graduation rates in order to use resources and supports that will increase the number of graduates, particularly African American males and students with IEPs. The district will also examine data for the students in Honors, Advanced Placement, and Gifted and Talented classes to ensure that all reflect the total student population. Professional development will be designed for instruction that provides rigor for all subgroups.

School leaders will identify and address suspension disproportionality.  Summer training will focus on implicit bias and school bias, training principals to make equity-based decisions. Leaders will assess district-wide discipline practices to eliminate bias when addressing all students.

Staffing needs to represent the students and community. The district actively recruits from historically black colleges however, the location of the district on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, seems to be a deterrent.  There is a true desire to create a more diverse district so relationships with universities and colleges continue.

“The biggest impact for me was learning about white privilege,” Engel said. “I’ve lived my whole life and never had an understanding that my skin color was an advantage.  Nobody bothers me no matter where I go and I can walk through most neighborhoods.  That understanding is important because there are many people who don’t have those same opportunities. Skin color could mean being followed. I have a friend who says he keeps his teacher badge in the rearview mirror in case he gets pulled over— the Eastern shore is a little behind. White privilege is a great place to start. Black teachers understood right away, but now I do. It’s personal transformation and many people that I‘ve talked to have experienced the same thing. When you understand white privilege, it gives the whole picture of why training is essential.”

Queen Anne’s County is indeed on the cutting edge of embracing cultural competency through training, focus groups, and hard conversations at every level. Equity Facilitators agree:

It was eye-opening and life-changing.

In today’s times, there needs to be more awareness of other cultures. We need to move from cultural blindness to cultural competency.

We hope we will serve as a resource on the journey to cultural proficiency and a safe person to discuss any concerns, questions, or issues related to culture in our school.

The Cultural Proficiency training has been one of the best professional development sessions I have participated in during my career. I have shared with many people that the sessions are not only greatprofessional development, but also personal development. The sessions have taught me to be reflective about my own biases and how to ask questions that stretch and open my mind (and hopefully stretch and open the minds of those around me!)

The expectation is that we will continue to stretch the minds of our staff by sharing concepts and strategies that we learned from the trainings we attended.

Expect to be pushed outside your comfort zone and allow yourself to be disturbed. You will grow as an educator, a co-worker, and a friend.

– Linda Rohrbaugh and Monique Green


Photo of blog post author.Monique Green earned her doctorate in special education from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Dr. Green is currently certified in Administration and Supervision, Special Education, and Early Childhood Regular and Special Education in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia. Over the course of 17 years she has assumed numerous roles in the education field such as: Special Education Chairperson/ Teacher, Instructional Coach, Teacher Mentor, Professional Development Trainer, Fellow Advisor/Curriculum Specialist, and most recently Specialized Instruction Specialist. Dr. Green has been highlighted as a feature teacher in Pearson’s foundational textbook, Special Education for Today’s Teachers. She has written a guest editorial for the NASET Special Education e-Journal and helped to develop relevant special education components for the Teaching for Student Achievement Training Curriculum, which was used by the DC Teaching Fellows program to develop novice special education teachers. Dr. Green has received numerous accolades and fellowships. Currently she is a member of Pi Lambda Theta International Honor Society and as an international travel scholarship recipient, Dr. Green, traveled to Ireland, Wales, and England where she observed the implementation of K-12 special education services and visited teacher preparation programs.

Supporting Schoolwide Transformation

My previous experience in the Kansas City, KS School District and the New Orleans Recovery School District post-Hurricane Katrina showed me how many students, particularly students who were African-American, were deeply affected by either challenging circumstances or ineffective supports in their schooling.

But Stanton Elementary School in Washington, DC turned my training upside down.  Most of the parents at Stanton were under 23 years old, and many of the students at the school exhibited at-risk and problem behavior.  The principal was working hard to turn that school around, and if Stanton closed, the consequences would have been dramatic for the community.

Many of the behavior problems were not even specific to the classroom.  For instance, I was walking down the halls of Stanton Elementary helping with some hallway supervision and passed the boys’ restroom. A boy was sitting barefoot in a concrete sink with the water running. Worried for his safety, I stepped into the bathroom and said, “Hey, let’s move out of the sink.”  He jumped with his wet feet out of the sink into my arms.  As someone studying inclusive education, my goal was to intellectualize and create an idea of what education can be for all kids, but each and every day teachers are in classes dealing with things like this that we can’t even imagine.

My experience at Stanton Elementary made me realize how much I still had to learn about inclusive education. How do you provide support to students with the most significant needs?  The traditional Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model requires us to think about efficiencies around three levels: universal instruction, additional support, and intensified support. But what do you do when most of the school needs intensive support? Stanton clarified for me that it was time to think about Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) in a different way, as a framework to meet the needs of every single student in the building, not just the kids with IEPs.

MTSS originally emerged from Response to Intervention, which entails looking at how a student is responding to an intervention and asking what changes need to be made in order for that student to be successful.  At SWIFT, we apply MTSS to the whole school.

From the very beginning of a partnership with a state, district, or school, we ask, “Who are the children in this building? Who are the teachers and the staff and the resources in the building? What is the space that we have? How can we set up a master schedule, course curriculum, and tiered interventions to meet the needs of all kids?” MTSS in the SWIFT framework is a transformative way of thinking about education for all, instead of meeting the needs of one individual to the exclusion of others in the system.

MTSS works. Stanton Elementary was slated to close, but after implementing whole school reform, students began to excel and their grades improved. We took a whole year just to focus on behavior, and layered in academics to get that school out of crisis. The same thing happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—the adults and children in the school needed time to heal.  Then of course, SWIFT’s 64 schools in 17 districts in five states gave us lots of exemplars of effective, equitable education for all kids, including those with very significant needs.

My ideal school is one where students’ supports aren’t based on a label, or a predetermined space, slot, or funding. Instead, teachers and administrators ask themselves and each other how to best support every child who walks in those school doors. SWIFT has the tools to help make this vision a reality—the resource inventory, master schedule, tiered intervention matrix, and intervention planning are all available on our website in the SWIFT MTSS Starter Kit.

As a framework for whole school transformation, SWIFT ensures that every child and educator has the support they need to be successful in the general education classroom. Equity-based inclusion is truly a team effort, and whatever stage of implementation you are in—from visioning to sustaining—SWIFT is committed to supporting you every step of the way.

-Dr. Amy McCart

Photo of blog author.Amy McCart, Ph.D. is an Associate Research Professor with Special Graduate Faculty Status at the University of Kansas. Dr. McCart is the director of technical assistance for the SWIFT Center. Additionally, she is the principal investigator for multiple federal projects through the U.S. Department of Education to support urban schools implementing school-wide positive behavior support. As part of her work with school-wide positive behavior support, she serves as a collaborating partner in the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. Dr. McCart worked in a number of urban schools, including the Recovery School District in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, and the District of Columbia, Washington Public Schools. She was the site director at an agency supporting individuals with low incidence disabilities working to improve quality of life. She is also focused on utilizing agency-focused multi-tiered prevention to support families with mental health needs in poverty and their young children.

State Spotlight Vermont

The Leadership Team and Administration at Oak Grove Elementary School in Windham Southeast Supervisory Union in Brattleboro, Vermont uses SWIFT tools and processes to identify priority areas and evidence-based practices to meet the needs of all students in their building, helping each child reach his or her potential.

The Leadership Team collected and reviewed data about their students, school, district, and community to identify current strengths and prioritize areas where they wanted to focus their continuous improvement work. The team identified an abundance of strengths: an effective Universal Behavior Management System, a strong relationship with their LEA, strong ties with families and the community, an effective Instructional Coaching system, and a team and colleagues they call “collaborative and working to support all students with integrity.” They will be successful when they apply these strengths to the evidence-based practice they chose to prioritize as their next area for improvement: implementation of UDL in their school and classrooms!

After the team finished Data Snapshots, they moved on to using the Priority & Practice Planning tools. The Leadership Team learned about and employed stage- and driver-based action planning with enthusiasm and integrity.  They asked good questions and included all team members in planning for improving the implementation drivers of best practice: competency, organization, and leadership.  Using such embedded strengths as their Instructional Coaching supports and close work with their LEA, they will implement UDL with professional development, coaching, and effective internal and external communication practices. These strengths will support faculty and staff as they embrace all children in the general education curriculum and ensure that families and community members are informed and supported in their relationships with the school.

Oak Grove Elementary School exemplifies a community working smartly and diligently to serve all children—a true learning collaborative that embraces continuous improvement with integrity and honor!

-Maura Hart

Photo of author blog.I began working in Education as a middle and high school English teacher, during which time I earned my Master’s of Education Degree with Antioch University New England and began adjunct teaching for them. While I LOVED teaching in the public schools and working with my students, my life path took me on a different course. During the time when I had two babies and stayed home with them, I went to UMass to get my Ph.D. (it seemed like a good idea at the time…) This work brought me to consulting with schools and districts as a team facilitator and teacher trainer and coach. My experience with a district in Vermont introduced me to the SWIFT Center where I now work with amazingly talented and passionate educators who are committed to including all children in all classrooms.

Phone is the foreground with "Uber" on the screen; a car is in the background.

Uber Interesting – Making My Driver’s Story Obsolete

I took an Uber home from the airport recently after attending a meeting. Almost without exception, when I take an Uber, I have the opportunity to hone my elevator speech about the SWIFT mission and core purpose of our efforts. This particular ride and sharing was uber interesting.

My driver, a young man in maybe his early 30s, and I made small talk for awhile about his job, the weather, traffic, and so on. Then he politely inquired about what I do for work. I explained a bit about how we partner with teams of people in states, districts, schools to re-design teaching and learning to give all students—not just some—access to the supports they need to be successful in the school curriculum. Bottom line: instead of making the students fit the way schools are designed, we design schools to be responsive to students’ learning needs.

We chatted a bit more about this and then he went quiet for a few moments. When he spoke again, he said, “You know, I’ve got a learning disability. I have difficulty with auditory processing.” I said I had some familiarity with what he was talking about, and then he shared a story that was both sad and deeply meaningful about the importance of our work.

“I was in elementary school and I remember that each year the special education teacher would come to the door of my classroom, name me and some other kids, and then say we needed to go with her. The other kids didn’t know where we were going. But there was one year, it was in 6th grade, when the special education teacher came to the door, one of the kids whose name she called said, ‘Oh no, special education again!’ I was so embarrassed, I wanted to crawl under a rock. But what was worse than that was that I’d miss so much work in the classroom. I kept getting pulled out and get so far behind that it was impossible to catch up. I just kept getting further and further behind the rest of the kids in my class and the stuff they were learning. It continued like this all the way through high school —and then they handed me a diploma and congratulated me. I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ What were they talking about? I was lacking so much learning that it has affected my whole life. Still does now. I went to (community college) and they told me I wasn’t up to par to take the classes I wanted to enroll in. So I had to take a bunch more remediation classes, and I’m still not done. It’s like I’ll never catch up.”

I told my driver that I would share his story and use it to further fuel our work to help schools become places where the variability in the way students learn is not considered cause for limiting their access to the curriculum. Instead, schools will be places where we use our collective intelligence to ensure all students are insiders, and none are outsiders, making this man’s story obsolete.

-Linda Beitz

Photo of blog post author.Linda is on staff at the SWIFT Center as a member of the State Education Agency (SEA) Facilitator Team and the Capacity and Sustainability Team. Her passion is supporting educators’ in a positive relational approach to systems change, leadership effectiveness, and personal/team conflict competence. She’s the mother of two wonderful young adults and an avid (seasonal) bicyclist along Chicago’s lakefront.