Ann Marie Spakowski is the Director of Special Education for the Harford County Public Schools. We had a wide-ranging conversation with her around transition and some of the reasons for her county’s great success with their Special Education students. Again and again, Ann Marie came back to the issue of the essential importance of forming strong partnerships, both within the county’s schools and beyond.
Partnering with Schools and Families
Our success is really attributed to our transition staff working very closely and partnering with our local middle and our high schools and with the families, forming bonds that can help the parents to be able to express themselves and to describe their fears and dreams for their children.
The Specifics of Partnering with Families
We have actually assigned a transition resource itinerant to work directly with the families and the students to be able to set specific goals that work around their transition plan and help the parents to see the importance of the students attending school, meeting the requirements so that they can successfully graduate from Hartford County public schools.
Partnering with the state
With our partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education in the area of suspension, we were able to obtain some additional technical support to be able to help us move forward in a positive direction. MSDE was able to supply us with an actual person that they sent here to assist us with our data and recordkeeping. This helped us give information back to the schools on a daily basis so that we could flag students when they hit Day 10 of suspension. And we needed that to move forward with the free and appropriate public education for these individual students.
Partnering with Businesses
The partnerships with businesses that we formed can really be attributed to our transition facilitator itinerants who, with the staff in our departments, have quarterly meetings, go out to the different businesses and agencies, have informal discussions, and visit actual work sites, so that we have a clear understanding of what they are looking for and what we have as needs in our system to be able to support the students in these partnerships.
Partnering with Non-public Schools
One of the greatest partnerships that we’ve had has been with the Arrow-Fair Meadows, which is part of Arrow Industries. The majority of the students, probably close to 98 percent of the students attending Arrow-Fair Meadows, are Hartford County Public School students. We had always been concerned that the partnership would be difficult to maintain once a student left our school and went to a non-public facility. Working together, though, we have been able to focus on the students that are preparing for graduation at Arrow-Fair Meadows and help them in their success rate – not only with graduation, but also with supported employment as they enter the real world.
What it Takes to Create Success
We rely on the village to help support all students to be successful. In order to get there, we need the partnerships. We need the employees and the school system and the parents to all come together to build a strong foundation for all students.
Partnering on the Home Front
Ann Marie reports that she has been married to Tom Spakowski for many years, and they two grown children, Kristin and Tim. She works as a volunteer with local agencies such as The ARC-Northern Chesapeake Region and the Autism Society of Harford County.