Most of our firm’s Toolbox training involves specific disciplinary actions that schools are authorized to use when dealing with students who are eligible for special education. Tool #9, however, has broader application. Tool #9 is about leadership at the non-consensus ARD meeting. That’s a tool that will be useful in many situations. You might have a disagreement over eligibility, the goals in the IEP, the services to be provided, or the placement. Or it might be about disciplinary action. In all such cases, someone has to step up to provide leadership for the school district.
The ARD Committee has a set of required members that include “a representative of the public agency.” This is usually the principal or assistant principal. It needs to be someone who has the authority to commit the district to provide the services that the IEP calls for. This is the logical person to look to for leadership.
There are two fundamental aspects of ARD meetings that the leader needs to remember. First, there are only two parties at the meeting—the school and the parent (or adult student). You may have a dozen people sitting around the table, but there are only two parties. Many viewpoints and opinions will be expressed in the meeting, but ultimately, each party has to speak with a united voice. It’s up to the administrative representative to give voice to the position of the school district.
Secondly, special education is upside down compared to everything else in school operations. Schools operate on a top-down model. The highest ranking administrator is the one who speaks for the school. But not so with special education. In special education, the decisions are made by the ARD Committee which is staffed with teachers, direct service providers and the parent. When the members of the ARD Committee agree on something, no one in the district can override it. The district is committed. That’s why we don’t like for people in the ARD to say things like “we’ll have to see if that’s OK with the superintendent.” If you need the superintendent’s approval, you should have the superintendent at the meeting.
Taking into account those two fundamental features of special education process and law, the administrative representative should understand that leadership in special education is different from leadership in other areas. The administrative representative states the position of the district, but that position should be derived from the consensus views of the school members of the Committee—the teachers, evaluators, and direct service providers. The administrative representative needs to be a good listener, someone who can pull together the views of the team members and unite them in a single position. The administrative representative is the leader, but not the quarterback dictating the play.
Our Toolbox Training touches on all this as we review Tool #9, but our firm also offers more in depth training specifically focusing on how the administrative representative can provide the kind of leadership the school needs at the ARD Committee meeting. Let us know if we can help you with that.
DAWG BONE: A LEADER. NOT A DICTATOR.
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Tomorrow: Midwinter Conference