How Special Education Shines at EFC

Posted on January 5, 2023 • Filed under In the Community, News, SELPA Partners
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Dear FIA Community,

The three big pillars that guide our work at FIA are educational quality, access and equity. We believe ALL Oakland students, especially those who have been traditionally marginalized, should have access to quality education. That's why we are so excited to highlight the high-quality Special Education Program at Education For Change's Achieve Elementary led by Shawna Myers, where there is a strong vision, intentional and powerful programs for students with moderate to severe disabilities and highly skilled teaching teams.  


For our latest FIA Exclusive Blog, we visited Achieve to see high-quality, moderate-to-severe special education in action. We came away inspired by our visit and the work of the Achieve staff. There are clearly aligned systems, support for students and staff, accountability and joy. We are fortunate to have EFC's leadership in Special Education. We also interviewed EFC’s Director of Special Education, Eva Huffman, to learn more about how they do it.  

Despite the rhetoric, strong programs for students with moderate to severe disabilities exist and are growing across Oakland charter schools. We are encouraged that Lighthouse and Yu Ming are two other charter schools that have recently opened programs for moderate to severely disabled students.

Enjoy this fantastic Special Education profile!


FIA Exclusive Blog: How Special Education Shines at Education for Change

Kalah Johnson (left) and Carrie Ruelas are two of Achieve Academy's

Student Support Services staff members.

Every child has the right to a quality education and the opportunity to learn and grow every day. Students with disabilities also require a special type of teaching approach, care or equipment both in and outside the regular classroom in order to thrive and reach their potential. Having a disability shouldn’t prevent a student from conquering the world, and it’s the job of adults and schools to give every student the opportunity to be their best selves and shine. Every public school is required to provide special education services and support to students who are eligible.

How are Oakland public schools supporting all students to thrive? FIA recently visited Education For Change’s Achieve Academy, and we also interviewed EFC’s Director of Special Education, Eva Huffman, to learn more about how it delivers quality moderate-to-severe special education services. She shared with us how EFC operates its special education programming across six schools; why inclusive learning environments are important; how school staffing can be done so it’s responsive to student needs; and how all schools can better serve students receiving special education supports and services.

Here are 5 Highlights:

The Achieve Academy Special Education Team hosts OUSD and charter educators for a visit and to share about their program for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

1. The EFC network employs 21 Education Specialists and a staff of 95 across their 6 schools

Across EFC schools, 11% of students have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) – 300 students out of the 2,661 enrolled across its six schools. To serve this considerable student population, EFC makes robust investments in 21 Education Specialists across its six schools, with a total special education staff of 95. 

  • “Each of our schools ensures that all children who have disabilities, regardless of the severity of their disability, and who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located, evaluated, and served.” 
  • “Each EFC school provides a full continuum of services. When a student is identified as needing special education and related services, our IEP teams take an individualized approach to designing a plan calculated to enable the child to progress.”

2. Building a Mindset for Inclusive Learning Environments

At EFC, a shared vision is cultivated that special education is a service, not a place. Scheduling for students and program planning is done very intentionally, and there is behind-the-scenes team work & systems that are geared towards increasing a student’s success. So inspiring!

  •  “EFC is truly committed to keeping students in the least restrictive environment. And we take seriously our responsibility to provide the full continuum of supports and services at each of our schools.”
  • “We place emphasis on creating inclusive learning environments that provide opportunities for all students to access education in the general education setting to the maximum amount appropriate.”
  • “We use the IEP process to determine the appropriate program for each individual student. We rely on a multidisciplinary team of experts and focus on appropriate instruction and maximal access to peers.” 

3. Developing High Quality Special Education Staff

Teachers and students develop strong relationships and rapport, and teachers create a rigorous and trusting culture for students to learn. 

  • “This year at Achieve Academy, one of our elementary schools, we have five education specialists. Some of whom co-teach, others who do a combination of co-teaching and small group pull out/push in instruction, and one education specialist dedicated to serving students with moderate to severe needs.”
  • “Our staff is critical to our learning model, and we emphasize recruiting, hiring, developing, and retaining highly qualified staff. Each of our schools is staffed with robust, multidisciplinary teams.” 
  • “Our service providers have relatively small caseloads, which allows them to meet the complex needs of our students and gives providers time for collaboration with families and staff.” 
  • “The educators directly working with students are the most important factor in student outcomes and family satisfaction. Legally and ethically, we have an obligation to hire based on our student’s needs. 
  • “Our theory of action is that if we invest in our staff and equip them with the tools to do their jobs well, then they will feel supported and confident in designing and delivering services to a diverse range of learners.” 

Achieve Academy special education staff.

4. Thriving Students

As a result of the intentional program, hi, students with IEPs are thriving at Achieve.

  • "Students founded their own neurodiversity club this school year." 
  • "An elementary-aged student launched their IEP meeting by welcoming everyone to his "success plan meeting," individually introducing each participant and how they support him. It was incredibly powerful to hear this student share from his perspective what his strengths are and things that are difficult for him." 
  • "A few years ago, a kindergarten student transferred into an EFC school mid-year. At the student's previous district, the student spent 100% of the time outside the regular class. The EFC school did not have a kindergarten special day class but was able to design a program tailored to the student's needs in an inclusive setting. By the end of the year, the student was spending 90% of the day with general education peers and progressing toward their IEP goals. The student is now in upper elementary and met grade-level expectations in several subjects on their most recent report card." 
  • "One student's parent moved to the U.S. after learning their child had severely delayed speech skills but couldn't get effective intervention. At EFC, the student has been able to get intensive speech and language intervention and has developed strong oral fluency skills, frequently volunteering to read out loud in class." 

5. Designing Schools To Better Serve Students with Complex Needs

  • “There are a lot of great practices I see in schools across Oakland, and we are learning every day at EFC. Serving students with disabilities well takes a commitment to serving all students regardless of need. Designing a successful program for students with more complex needs requires an inquiry mindset and ongoing data collection and progress monitoring to determine if the right interventions and supports are in place for students to make progress. You have to be flexible and willing to respond to the data.” 

What's Ahead for Achieve?

Achieve strives to continually improve their program.

  • “This year, one of our goals is to ensure our students consistently attend school. We are also focusing on math instruction and strategies to support our students in meeting their math IEP goals.”
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