Not Just Teachers: Supporting Students’ Success

As summer ends and the school year begins, we often think about teachers and students heading back to school. While teachers prepare lessons and students learn new concepts we can’t forget the service employees who provide support that enable the schools to run efficiently.

Instructional support in schools can play a key role in student success. Paraeducators –– support staff responsible for assisting in the delivery of instruction — help provide such support by assisting with classroom management, organizing instructional materials, helping in libraries and media centers, and translating, to name a few of their responsibilities. Perhaps most importantly, paraeducators reinforce the efforts of teachers in the classroom, and help increase student outcomes.

This is why, as President of the California School Employees Association, I want to take the time to tell the story of one school employee in the Golden State who really shines.

Paraeducator Michele Delao, a 2011 California School Employees Association Member of the Year, uses her knowledge and warmth to help special education students learn. For the past eight years as special education paraeducator at Bear River School in Wheatland, California, she has brought light-heartedness and laughter to the serious mission of showing special education students that they can thrive.

The staff of Bear River School laud Delao’s ability to help students focus and grasp instruction.

Michele Delao helps a student on an assignment.

Michele Delao helps a student on an assignment.

“She has a very striking sense of humor that comforts the kids and takes the pressure off,” explains Angela Gouker, principal of Bear River School. “Most of these kids know they’re a little bit behind or struggling in some areas. She makes learning fun so that they forget that pressure.”

Delao says it’s satisfying to see the students’ progress. With her help, the students can attend mainstream middle school classes even as they’re working to master the basics.

With budget cuts and fewer staff dedicated to special education, the paraeducators at Bear River School  have taken on a larger load of students with a broader range of learning disabilities. Despite the challenge, Delao tailors her approach to fit each student.

“They’re having great difficulties and there are great variations in each person,” she says. “But because there are only three of us, our groups are really not as targeted as we would like. I have to find a middle ground and at the same time try to meet individual students where they are.”

Understanding  the needs and challenges of working with diverse learners, including special education students, Delao comes to work each day fired by  the energy, compassion and will to give the students she mentors a boost toward academic success. And, she does it all with a smile.

“She really cares about what she does – she cares about people – and that sense of humor comes through,” Gouker said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Michael Bilbrey  is president of the California School Employees Association.


School Field Trip to California

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sits with Eric Simmons in his first grade classroom at Shoal Creek Elementary in San Diego, Calif., March 23, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

No two schools are the same, and in a giant and diverse state like California, you need to visit a lot of classrooms and talk to a lot of teachers, administrators, students, parents and political leaders before you can even begin to understand the public education system’s accomplishments and challenges. Last month, I returned to the Golden State for a packed two-day visit to Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego.

At an education summit organized by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, I directly challenged the city’s leaders, community groups, unions, parents, educators and students. Los Angeles, I told them, is a world-class city with a second-class school system. They can use the current and very real budget crisis as an excuse to continue on the road they have been on, or they can take the road less traveled—the harder road. To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, that road less traveled will make all the difference.

At L.A.’s Fremont High School, I was greeted by the energy and enthusiasm of student leaders. In February, some of them came to Washington for a national youth summit that the Department of Education convened. These students have taken ownership for their educations and are demanding more from their schools and from themselves.

Another school with high expectations—and great results to show for it—is Tincher Preparatory School in Long Beach. There, I participated in a roundtable with Tincher’s fantastic principal, Bill Vogel. A music teacher, Laura Strand, asked me if I could pull off “a miracle” and solve California’s budget problems, which are cutting into arts programs like hers. I am proud that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has saved more than 300,000 education jobs over the last two years and supported state and locally led reforms, but I recognizethat schools in California and elsewhere are facing brutally tough funding decisions. There are smart and not-so-smart ways to make those decisions. The not-so smart ways include cutting back on arts and music instruction or implementing other cutbacks that harm learning in the classroom.

Education’s miracle workers are teachers like Ms. Strand who work magic with their students, and in very tough conditions. What those of us in Washington, D.C., can do is give states, school districts, schools and the educators who work in them greater flexibility—with accountability—to be creative in addressing their students’ individual needs. This is where the current federal education law known as No Child Left Behind(NCLB) falls short. While the law is rightfully credited for shining the spotlight on achievement gaps, it’s too prescriptive and too punitive. As President Obama said recently, we want to get this law fixed before students go back to school in September.

In the San Diego area, I was pleased that one of Congress’s leaders on education, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), agreed that this year we need to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the official name for No Child Left Behind—and fix NCLB’s problems. With Congressman Hunter, I visited Shoal Creek Elementary School. Then we joined current and retired military leaders at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It is astounding to me that three out of four young Americans do not meet basic requirements to serve in our military; either they lack a high school diploma, they’re physically unfit, or they have a criminal record. This is a national security risk that we must address. And the best way to get our children ready for college and careers, including military service, is to invest first in high-quality early education programs.

March was a busy month for education. The President, Vice President and I, as well as other administration officials, visited schools throughout the country to emphasize the importance of investing in education to win the future. President Obama put it best when he said recently that “in the 21st century, it’s not enough leave no child behind. We need to help every child get ahead.”

Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education.

Visit to see a photo gallery of the Secretary’s visit.

An Education Second to None

Photo of Secretary Duncan at Miramar
The 2nd Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps has a history of performing their best during tough fights.  The motto of the 2nd Division is “Second to None,” and just as the 2nd Division strives to be the best when called into action, President Obama has called the entire country to action in making our schools and students the best in the world once again.

Education and national security are closely related.  Only 25 percent of American youth qualify to enter the Armed Forces. Three out of four applicants are turned away because they lack a high school diploma, are obese, or have a criminal record. This sobering statistic means America’s ability to defend itself is put in jeopardy.

Yesterday at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego, California, Secretary Duncan joined Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Commanding General of Marine Corps Installations West, Major General Anthony L. Jackson, as well as several other military and civilian leaders in an event to bring attention to the link between education and national security. Secretary Duncan spoke of the need for a greater investment in education to ensure that more young people graduate from high school, obey the law, and get in shape. This is an issue that will determine our national and economic security for decades to come.

The Secretary also noted that fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the right step in improving education and will put more students on the path to graduating high school.  Congressman Duncan Hunter explained that “We want to fix NCLB this year. If it doesn’t get done this year, it doesn’t get done.”

Duncan Gains Feedback During California Visit

“You aren’t the future leaders, you’re leading today,” Secretary Duncan told a group of students last night at a community forum in Los Angeles that also included parents, teachers and community leaders.  The Secretary’s discussion at Fremont High School was just one of three stops he made in the LA area yesterday to discuss and get feedback on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Earlier in the day, Secretary Duncan spoke at a gathering of over 1,000 leaders from the business, civic, education, government and parent communities at the one-day Education Summit held by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.  Following his visit to the Education Summit, the Secretary stopped at Tincher Preparatory, a K-8 public school in Long Beach California, for a roundtable discussion with teachers, administrators, parents and students.  The Long Beach Press-Telegram summed up the roundtable discussion:

The secretary listened intently as administrators and teachers talked about the programs that make Tincher a success. The East Long Beach K-8 school, where more than 50 percent of the students are designated as disadvantaged, has been lauded for its gains in test scores and was named a “School to Watch” by the California Middle Grades Alliance in 2009.

Duncan said the LBUSD sets an example for other school districts in the country.

“I’ve studied your school district for a long time, and I think you have so much to be proud of,” he told a crowd gathered in the school library.

Today, the Secretary is stopping in San Diego for another roundtable discussion, as well as a visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to discuss education as a national security issue.