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
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.