Filling in the Blanks with Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D.: Special education calls for community

Filling in the Blanks with Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D.: Special education calls for community
Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt (Courtesy photo)

By Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D.

Equity in education is what the Alexandria City Public Schools Strategic Plan is all about, and this certainly includes our students with specialized needs. As October is recognized as Disability Awareness Month, I want our ACPS families to know I have taken to heart the need to look for ways that our division can strengthen special education services. ACPS is working to provide an inclusive education for all students, improve communications with special education families and raise expectations for students with disabilities. 

As superintendent, I recently met with our School Board’s Special Education Advisory Committee leadership and will continue working closely with our leadership team to ensure ACPS is doing its best for all students. To keep our line of communication open, the SEAC offers an opportunity for families and other School Board appointees to have a voice in the way ACPS provides services to students with disabilities. ACPS’ partnership with SEAC is essential in building a true community for our students with disabilities and their families. 

Communication is key in connecting our families with resources. That is why the Office of Specialized Instruction is partnering with the Anne R. Lipnick Special Education Parent Resource Center to host events this month to help families learn more about the supports available to them. The PRC prides itself in helping families understand their child’s special education services and give them the confidence to work with our schools as partners. 

I know it is essential that our students with disabilities graduate with not just a diploma, but with a clear plan in place. With that in mind, the school division added two new transition team members this year to begin supporting students as early as elementary school. This is key to engaging students with self-determination and self-advocacy skills. It also puts the focus on career and college options so that all students graduate with options for their next steps. The school division is also working with the Training and Technical Assistance Center to hold a professional learning series to further educate our teachers on evidence-based specially designed instruction, providing specific strategies to help close the achievement gap. 

Our Office of Specialized Instruction also hosts an annual transition fair to ensure our students and families have postsecondary options that align with their strengths and interests. ACPS’ partnership with the Division of Rehabilitative Services supports students ages 14 and up to promote successful transitions from school to work and adult life. Through this partnership with DRS, students at the high school are able to participate in work-based learning experiences and instruction on self-advocacy from community organizations including STEMSkills, ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia and Service Source. To support full inclusion and participation in the community, our partner, The Arc of Northern Virginia’s Tech for Independent Living program, provides our teachers with fully customized lessons that promote student independence with traveling, employment, safety and daily living skills. 

Also benefiting our students are ACPS partnerships with the nonprofits Move2Learn and The Miracle League of Alexandria. Move2Learn levels the learning field for traditionally underserved and overlooked students, enabling them to engage in safe and healthy physical activities while supporting their social-emotional well-being. The Miracle League allows students to participate in fall and spring baseball games so that they can engage in physical activity and enjoy positive social interactions with their peers. 

My career path began in the classroom as a special education teacher, and I want all families to know that I hear you. I will give my all to advocate for our students with specialized needs. Let us work together as a team to provide an inclusive and fulfilling educational experience for all students, as October celebrates the incredible abilities of our students with disabilities and all they can achieve. 

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.