Innovative special education? It's just how we do things in Ridgewood, at least as long as I've been here and clearly since before then. The mission statement of our school district is the real thing, especially the part about "enabling students to maximize their unique potentials." In some school districts, special education is seen as somehow other...separate...different...well, special. But in Ridgewood, special ed is just part of how we educate and care for every student and his or her unique potential, whatever that may be, from overachievers to underachievers, from superstars to kids who struggle with basic everyday survival. Most Ridgewood residents have no idea the range of needs and challenges faced by Ridgewood youth, and are unaware of the lengths our educators go to educate students of all aptitudes and developmental levels. The very fact that our special ed programs operate somewhat "under the radar" is a testament to how these programs are part of the very fabric of our school system. The recent referendum and construction projects to add/change spaces at our schools and better accommodate special programs is further confirmation. Financially smart, yes, but also simply the right thing to do.
That's why it's truly great when a Ridgewood program is recognized outside on the larger stage. You may have read recently that RHS principal Jack Lorenz was recognized by Bergen County for his leadership in developing the S.A.I.L. (Strategic Actions & Innovations for Learning) program at the high school, and kudos to Mr. Lorenz. According to the story on Ridgewood Patch, the S.A.I.L. program "houses special needs students in-house, focusing on providing lessons of independence." The program consists of a curriculum that combines academic lessons with internships, job training, counseling and technology. S.A.I.L. also saves the district money, since the students remain in RHS instead of being sent out of district where we would have to pay tuition for their education. It's a win-win for the students, their families and the district (not to mention the other RHS students who have the benefit of working with and getting to know these students, too).
I think it's important to mention that many people created, and currently give life everyday to, the S.A.I.L. program at RHS. In particular, Kerry Huntington, Director of Special Services, and Pat Staab, Supervisor of Special Education, were architects of the program along with Mr. Lorenz. And, seriously, I save my strongest praise and respect for the teachers with, as they say, the "boots on the ground," who work with the S.A.I.L. students day in and day out. Yes, it certainly takes leadership to get a program such as S.A.I.L. off the ground (thank you Board of Ed, too, for funding it). But it takes a District with an overall commitment at all levels to create an environment where such a program could be theorized, designed and implemented pretty much in the background, business as usual. Thank you Ridgewood, and thank you to all the educators involved, for making it a reality.
Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org