Small beginnings, big difference

Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

Burbank Preschool fanWhen I walked into the room I was struck by the sunlight pouring in across a classroom of tiny tables and chairs.

The woman next to me was immediately struck by a small body hurdling itself at her knees for a hug.

Christie Anderson, director of the Burbank Preschool Center, paused mid-sentence to disentangle and chat with the child (and a few others) before we continued our tour.

Moving from classroom to classroom I felt like this could be any preschool in Oakland. Parents were dropping off little ones. Teachers and aides were giving multi-lingual direction to students (Burbank families speak over 15 languages). The reading nook, the imagination corner, and the riot of colors and activities tempted me to just get right onto the floor and start playing. The children were totally engaged.

I did notice in one room a child was using an electronic board with pictures that the child would touch to communicate instead of using words. In another room a wheelchair was pushed up to the snack table with the other chairs. And in one classroom there was a nurse, always, because the students have such severe health impairments that there must be medical support available at all times.

This is what special education preschool looks like. At Burbank there are 14 different programs housed under one roof. The site also boasts a general education preschool program that provides the opportunity for students from different programs to learn with and socialize with their non-disabled peers, the Alameda County Infant/Toddler Prevention Program, and the district’s Diagnostic Center. (Some children are identified for special education between the ages of birth and age three and the Regional Center of the East Bay supports most of these students. The Diagnostic Center primarily works to support and identify children from age three and above who need special education.)

Early intervention for these children is critical. Early diagnosis and intervention reduces special education costs in the long run, and in some cases the need for special education services altogether. Ms. Anderson is still collecting the first few years’ worth of Burbank data as part of a long-range study that follows these students onward. But last year’s kindergarten-bound students all continued on to mainstream settings (in a general education classroom for at least part of the day or in a full inclusion program) and that’s quite a piece of data in itself.

Burbank has other programs too. It provides free sign language classes and autism support programs for parents and partners with Mills College’s teaching program. Ms. Anderson also proudly noted that Burbank was the only preschool in the district currently partnered with UC Berkeley’s Harvest of the Month program, which introduces a new vegetable into students’ diets each month. Of course, the center faces challenges too. Like any other school there is a need for ongoing community support and fundraising and I’ve heard some families raise concerns about increased class sizes this year impact that may have on a model so reliant on intensive support in a small group setting.

I asked Ms. Anderson why she thinks Burbank is so successful. Rather than brag she took the opportunity to remind me that there are 11 other “amazing” preschool special education programs in OUSD and they are all “stellar.” My visit, though, made me wonder if the reason folks rave about Burbank (literally people’s eyes light up) is in part because of the synergy that comes from having folks collaborating together under one roof.

Want to share the experience? Take a quick tour.

What has been your experience with Burbank or any of the other special education preschool programs in OUSD? Is there any other site in the district that uses a similar model for special education students?

Photo courtesy of Maya Mosley

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • J.R.

    As a parent of an Autistic child I want to commend all of the teachers and staff for the work that they do, it is very hard. I know personally how hard it is, and we should all be thankful for these wonderful people.

  • Katy Murphy

    On a related note, OUSD’s new special education director, Karen Mates, is giving a presentation on services and planning at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.

    The accompanying Power Point includes a breakdown by disability type and the number of students of each race who are in special education, compared to the total population, as well as a graduation rate/dropout rate comparison.

    You can find it here.

  • SpedMom

    This brings tears to my eyes…”sunlight pouring across the classroom” was my 1st impression when my son attended Burbank…We loved this school and really miss the environment…Yes, there are many great programs at other schools, but having an entire school environment embrace the needs of our child is what’s lacking.

  • Oakland Resident

    Thank you J.R. and SpedMom for sharing!!

  • Nontcair

    Parents were dropping off little ones.

    Once again we see public education being used as public DAYCARE.

  • Nontcair

    #2 (KM) wrote the number of students of each race who are in special education, compared to ..

    Once again we see public education involved in activities which have nothing to do with teaching Johnny how read. In this instance, *political* activities which should offend any decent minded American.

    Why are such statistics even being collected?
    Who’s counting the races?

    Who’s making the completely political determination that a kid who is half black/white is … “black”, “mixed”, etc.?

    Shouldn’t the categories be split to a kid’s great-grandparent level? You know, 1/8th Navajo?


  • Nontcair

    The only reason these statistics are being gather is to give preferences to certain groups or else to discriminate against certain groups.


  • SpedMom

    (Can we please stick to the topic of the article)

    This is a beautiful article highlighting a positive part of Oakland’s PEC program.
    The article didn’t mention it, but Burbank has a portable called the “motor room” for children to work on their motor skills…(It’s especially great on a rainy day)…and another portable for students who have OT services.
    Burbank, other schools where special ed. is going in the right direction,and great pricipals, need to be highlighted and be the standard…Especially as we move into this time of principals taking on more sped. responsibilities at their sites.

  • Nontcair

    How dare someone challenge the propriety and even the *legality * of what OUSD is doing!

  • Nontcair

    #2 provided a link to a quintessentially bureaucratic PPT presentation.

    Slide ##s 8 & 11 have to do with those offensive racial breakouts.

    Slide #16 mentioned lowering legal compliance costs. OUSD’s entire budget is one big cost of compliance!

    Slide ##s 8 & 16 highlighted a bureaucratic imperative to bring kids “back” to OUSD. What possible advantage is it for taxpayers for them to take on additional financial burdens? Isn’t it obvious that taxpayers would be MUCH better off by moving more kids *out* of OUSD?

    Once again we see public education being used by the special interests as a pretext for keeping the tax dollars flowing their way.

  • Katy Murphy

    I posted another link to the OUSD special education presentation on the following blog entry, which is more broadly about special education initiatives and problems than this piece about preschool. That’s a more relevant place to take up some of these themes and respond to the slides.


  • Nontcair

    There’s a palpable effort around here to keep the discussion within very narrow limits which don’t threaten beneficiaries of the status quo.

    You know, as in “Should OUSD run a BIG special education program, or a VERY BIG one?”

  • Ms. J.

    Has anyone reading this blog read Notes from Underground?

    I just thought of it as I was reading the submissions from one particularly prolific poster, and it lightened my mood. There are so many intelligent, insightful, dedicated people working in OUSD and reading and responding to this blog. And there are some Underground People. At a certain point one can only shrug and skip past their obsessive, off-topic diatribes and continue focusing on the actual issues.

  • Special Ed Parent

    It is very gratifying that something beautifulcame out of the struggle to save Tilden Elementary. OUSD had originally planned to spread these early education and intervention programs among various elementary schools in OUSD simply because those schools had room. Parents had a very different idea and Burbank was born.

    Parents suggested the consolidation of the pre-k programs into one site. The fate of the k to 2nd grade programs has not been studied or understood by anyone. They were re-located and lost public attention.

    I would love to hear from parents who experienced the transfer of their children to Markham, Garfield, Howard, Burbank, MLK, and Sankofa.