The following is a statement by Saskia Nilsen of East Greenwich.
It is clear that the administrative parties involved in the decision to involuntary to transfer Lore Gray to Cole Middle School from Meadowbrook Farms Elementary do not understand the future of any appropriate autism programming by qualified professionals is at stake in the East Greenwich School District. Beyond the cutting of funding for special needs at one elementary school but not at another, despite these critical programmatic shifts are being sequestered from the families they will effect most, and the fact that these administrators making decisions have limited training in Autism education, our district is at a critical juncture that will decide the future of all special needs students currently and those to come. Without Lore Gray at the helm of the elementary level Autism programming in East Greenwich, the district will cease to have a viable Autism program. This will be a case for state intervention and require oversight by independent autism organizations.
What some people may not be aware of that Lore Gray was one of the founding participants in the Autism Project and involved in the original Autism legislation here in Rhode Island. She has over 30 years of experience working with autistic kids in the classroom and was originally hired by the East Greenwich School District to develop Autism programing for the district. In fact, in my opinion, you cannot find a more qualified special needs teacher with Autism training in the state.
But those who have worked with Lore know she is far beyond just a teacher. She is a devote professional and it is her grace and tack that starts many families on the road to success rather than continued frustration. She is able to run a program that includes a case load of students in and out of mainstream classrooms, carefully orchestrating the implementation of IEPs into a seamless routines while making sure her staff have the information they need to be successful and enabling all the students to be successful.
Her goal for each and every student is not just that they learn to their potential but that they are valued members of the school community who reach social and developmental milestones as well. She understands how to motivate the autistic student and what makes them tick. She works with the family to enable continuation of learning at home and ensure that up to the minute information is passed from home to all that work with a child in the school setting and beyond. I know that on average an autistic child can have 10-15 different adults running programmatic elements of their education and therapy.
She is the glue that ties together the various fragmented therapy sessions that builds a connection between the autistic child and the world we all live in ensuring implementation of what was learned in natural settings. She works with classroom teachers to make sure that they get the individual learning style of an autistic child and sees that particular child’s strengths and inner light. She understands that success for an autistic child includes the practicing of social skills throughout the day not just in isolate group sessions. The list of what she accomplishes in a day from answering emails at 7 in the morning to phone calls beyond the work day to keep her kids supported is immeasurable.
It is this dedication that lays the foundation that set students and families up for continued success as they progress through the district programing. Without her expertise, the nuances of current programming will be lost and the implementation of current IEPs seriously at risk. It is doubtful that the remaining staffing numbers can support inclusion of autistic students in the mainstream classroom. This has been a hard fought battle for many parents and is the current national norm. The district would have surely incurred numerous out of district placement costs with our Lore Gray’s tireless work.
One of the most common phrases I hear about autism is that if you’ve met and understood what works for one autistic child, then you’ve met the needs of one autistic child. It takes years of intense experience to figure out the threads to pull and weave together to get into the autistic brain and see the patterns that enable success in case after case. The district seems to espouse that any special needs teacher can take on Lore Gray’s case load and autistic students. While these young and enthusiastic special needs teachers are competent, they do not have the experienced or specialized training require to service autistic kids effectively especially as their case load is being doubled. In addition, Lore Gray is one of the few practicing professionals with a firm grasp on the subsets of autism like high functioning which is not included in basic special needs training.
As a parent of two Autistic children, an educator, special needs tutor and school advocate with a masters in elementary education, I think my voice offers a unique perspective that needs to be seriously considered. I talk as a parent who is grateful to Lore Gray for being the first educator in a long line to get my children and help all who interacted with them to understand them. I speak as a professional who has read everything she can on autism research over the past ten years and attended numerous national conferences on best practices.
I reflect as a school advocate on how the district is balancing short term budget needs with long term goals for its most vulnerable students in a nontransparent way. It makes me wonder if they see someone as competent as I do through a teacher evaluation system that lacks any variation for special needs educators. Or perhaps they see the funding require to support her program and think shortsightedly that they can cut cost, unaware of how much money Lore Gray is saving them. I see the learning community at Meadowbrook Farms that will be ripped apart when it loses its heart and soul. I know I dread the days Lore will not be at school because she is at a training, those are the days my phone does not leave my side for a single second. Those are the days I pray my kids make it through.