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.

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.

SWIFT Implementation Gains: Supporting Teachers First

As SWIFT Center’s New Hampshire and Vermont LEA Facilitator, I am often asked, by non-educators and educators alike, what I do.  I reply with some version of the following: “I help create systems, structures, and frameworks that support the work of the classroom teacher so that he/she can help every child learn to his/her greatest capability.”

Recently, at the SWIFT National Leadership Collaborative meeting in Kansas City, I learned that two of the SWIFT Framework domains—Administrative Leadership and Inclusive Policy Structure & Practice—had the most implementation gains during our three years of partnership with 64 schools.  In SWIFT schools, strong and actively engaged administrative leaders are committed to improving teaching and learning within a system that empowers educators and school personnel.  Inclusive policy structure and practice includes a supportive, reciprocal partnership between the school and its district or local educational agency.  As I interpret these gains in equity-based inclusive education, our partner schools are increasingly supporting their teachers “from the outside in” and “from the inside out!”

In order for teachers to consistently use evidence-based classroom practices with fidelity in ways that allow all students to learn and enjoy learning in their community classrooms and schools, administrative leaders at the school, district, and state levels must show teachers that their work is valued and supported.

Administrative Leadership gives teachers the opportunity to share their expertise and contribute to meaningful decisions through distributive leadership structures placed in the school and district.  Inclusive policies and practices empower teachers to talk about the barriers to their work in the classroom with certain knowledge that they will not only be heard, but that their concerns will be addressed in a timely manner.  Teachers can also be confident that when they share what has worked for them, their experiences will be used in ways that expand evidence-based practice in their schools, districts, and states.

SWIFT partners have worked diligently to foster school cultures that honor the strength, commitment, and knowledge base of teachers.  SWIFT implementation teams bring these problem-solvers and “can-doers” into the action and provide a role and a voice for their invaluable perspective.  Through an initial focus on Administrative Leadership and Inclusive Policy Structure & Practice, SWIFT schools support teachers, which set up the conditions for all students to learn and grow in their community classrooms and schools through a Multi-Tiered System of Support with an Integrated Educational Framework in Partnership with Families & Communities.

-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.

SWIFT Guide Logo

Introducing SWIFT-FIG!

I like to think of the SWIFT features as the “Top 10 ways to make your school fully inclusive,” and SWIFT-FIG is your guide for understanding those features.


It’s About the Team

The team is everything. Whether it is a family team working together to care for a cat, or an educational team working together to educate a child, the team makes things work (or not).

Trusting Family Partnerships

Without a doubt, my children’s educational experiences contributed to their positive post-school outcomes. And, I’m certain that the engaged and trusting relationship that our family experienced with our school community helped pave their ways.