San Francisco Unified School District & Special Education

During EdRev sponsored by Parents Education Network (PEN) at the Giants Baseball Park one of the seminar discussions focused attention on The Future of the Special Education Services in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) who are transitioning from Youth to Adulthood.

The two leaders were: 

 Cecilia Dodge:  Assistant Superintendent for Special Education, San Francisco Unified School District

Juno Duenas, Executive Director, Support for Families

At the outset the speakers provided a brief outline on the approach being taken at SFUSD.  Their Special Education Services are guided by a US federal law, IDEA  (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  This legislation indicates how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. It addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to age 18 or 21 in cases that involve 13 specified categories of disability. All States have elected to accept federal funding under IDEA.

Six Principles on which IDEA was built are:

  • Free and appropriate public education
  • Assessment
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  • Requirement of parent participation
  • Procedural safeguards to ensure rights of children with disabilities and their parents will be protected.

 With this background, the speakers focused their presentation on the needs of a child who will be transitioning out of high school into the work force. They recommended that parents look at this transition process utilizing the following five-step outline.

  • What are the child’s goals for the future? 
  • What skills does the child have?  What skills do they need to pursue his or her goals?
  • What support and services will they need to pursue these goals?
  • Where should your child receive these supports and services and who should provide them?
  • How can a parent ensure that the plan for the child is being implemented?

The speakers commented that if a youth has an IEP, then, by age 16 the IEP should include transition planning.  Juno Duenas, Executive Director, Support for Families, informed us that her organization provides training for parents in the process of transition which also includes strategies to include the youth in this transition planning, ensuring the youth is leading their transition plan by providing input.

At this point, the attendees formed two groups to outline their recommendations for SFUSD. A format was provided:   How do you feel about the topic of transition? 

Some of the comments were:

Relating to the heart: 

  • Kids need to be invested in the process of transition.
  • SFUSD needs to provide employment choices for those who don’t know what they want to do. 
  • Parents, themselves, need to do goal setting.  Be a role model.  Show your child what you see doing when you are older and outline the skills you need to acquire to make that happen.
  •    Provide an environment which sets the student up for success.
    • Let the student/son or daughter  know that if they need you, you are here for them.   Give them space to explore to be sure they have a place to be happy.
    •  Remember fear goes with the unknown.  As a parent, work with your kid to expand the potential of opportunities.  Be careful not to say “no” too often. 
    • One teacher commented that she has a fear for one of her students because her student’s goal is to be a stripper.

 Relating to the Head:   What does your youth need to know and/or what additional questions do you have that would helpful to us in our planning at SFUSD?

  • Make unknown known.
  • Provide the necessary skills for what their heart wants.
    • Recommend that parents let go so their kids can have their head to explore and go for it.
    • Concerns: 

                               How will a supervisor or boss relate to our child?   Perceptions are at issue.

                               Disclosure:  How much do students need to tell future employers? 

                               If students are given a right they have a responsibility.  How do we re-enforce this?

 Relating to Hands:      What ideas do you have for SFUSD to improve the transition to adulthood?   What ideas do you have about community partners?

  • Let the students run the IEP rather than the professionals. Currently students speak the least at the IEPs. 
  • Provide means to assist the student to determine their likes and dislikes.  Students need to learn hands-on skills:  eg vocational
  • Offer more vocational and workablility opportunities.
    • Providing the family with links to organizations and services that the child is interested in.  Parents don’t have the time so school needs to do it. 
    • More mentors and, of course, a common theme, more funding
    • Develop links for networks including social networks: eg  Twitter, Facebook.

I found this seminar very useful.  As I am not involved with the school education process my only connection is through the press.  The details provided by the leaders of this seminar and the feedback from those attending has given me a different frame of reference.    

Contact Info:

            Juno Duenas,  Support for Families of Children with Disabilities (SFCD): 

                        phone:  425 282 7494, e-mail


            Cecilia Dodge:   San Francisco Unified School District SFUSD

                        Phone:  415-379-7697, e-mail:

Note:  Juno Duenas reviewed this blog before posting and added information to make the description more complete and accurate.  Thanks, Juno.

Todd Rose at EdRev, April 16, 2011

The San Francisco Giants Ball Park stadium and field was the home on Saturday, April 16th, 2011, of EdRev, (Education Revolution) celebration. With the theme Stand Up, Speak Out this day-long event produced by Parents Education Network (PEN)  brought together the largest national gathering of students who learn differently. Their families, educators and professionals joined to support them and together they educated themselves on a variety of learning differences.  

With the Giants playing field as the backdrop, at the mid-morning point, the large number of attendees gathered in the bleachers to hear Dr. L. Todd Rose, a young and successful faculty member at Harvard. What made him unique to this learning challenged gathering was the fact that his schooling process and his learning difference, ADHD, had so hampered his ability to learn that he was a high school drop. By nineteen he had gone through twenty minimum-wage jobs, become married and fathered a son. Then eureka happened.  One day his father-in-law said to him: “You are lazy.”That statement confused Todd.  He knew he wasn’t lazy.  Something else was going on.  He decided to make notes every time he was fired.  This step brought him an important insight. The reason he got fired generated from his boredom.  As soon as he had learned the skills of the job, such as a checker at the check-out stand in the grocery store, he became bored.  Then he began acting out.  

One night he shared his insight with his father: “I know why I have trouble keeping a job.  I get bored so easily.  I need a job where everything keeps changing.”His father commented:  “Those jobs exist but you have to have an education.”  

This was the impetus Todd needed. Now, he had the drive to get his GED (high school graduation). Working fulltime, he continued taking college night courses and graduated at the top of his class with a 3.97 GPA. Next he was accepted into the doctoral program at Harvard University, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Todd is now Co-Chair of the Mind, Brain and Education Institute at Harvard University as well as being a research scientist with CAST, a non-profit organization focusing on creating next–generation learning environments that will work for everyone.  And, he is in his thirties! Todd’s personal story gave him the insight into his passion for his professional life. He remembers well how much he hated school where he was not learning anything.  Now, he has  become an outspoken advocate and scientist developing the next steps for the educational process.  

He claims there is good news!  A learning revolution is taking place in the science milieu.  At the moment it’s silent. These explorers have developed a simple equation to define their task.                                                  variability x context = outcome.   

At first I was mystified when he presented this.  What did he mean?  Here’s the answer.   

Learners today include a variety of learning differences (ADHD, dyslexia, hyperlexia, aspergers as well as learners who can digest new information as taught using the current education system.)   These differences with their special variations/characteristics define the Variability of the equation.  Context refers to what is happening in the environment in which one learns.  For Todd, he knew he was working very hard in school but his school environment was not addressing his learning needs.   

Predictable. Todd’s outcome was predictable:  boredom and then failure. With this equation as the basis of his presentation, Todd turned his attention to the students in this large crowd encouraging them to accept the fact that they can be in control by being an advocate for what the need.  How do you do it?  You have to know your own variability. Begin to document your patterns. As you start to know your variability you have control.  Then, you can find a way to put yourself in better contexts.   

And, Todd empathized:  I know there are many of you like me, smart, but unable to access the information. You need to say what you need to learn. You need to state your problem for the current education system is outdated.  And, ask the question:  Does your learning environment value curiosity as you take responsibility for shaping your behavior?    To the parents in the audience he said that he and his colleagues know now there is scientific proof that all sorts of variables exist in the brain which support the statement that learning challenged learners require different solutions.  Leave the space open for your child to discover his or her variables and value their judgments about their needs.  My colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “you having knowledge”. “We know absolutely for sure that we can vary what you know based on what context (environment) we provide for you in which to learn.”  

His parting comment to the students was: “ There aren’t easy answers.  However, you may have more control than you can possibly imagine.”  

Todd Rose contact info: (

Prior to the KeyNote address, the opening feature was a video welcome from Andres Torres, the San Francisco Giants Center-Fielder. In 2002 Andres was diagnosed with ADHD.  At the time he was struggling in the minors to become a major league baseball player. In 2007 he sought treatment, began taking medication, and learned to develop strategies and support systems to help him become a key player. Torres’ struggle to triumph was an important example to those present in the grandstand.  Torres made it clear that through struggle came the desired result.