Silver Sands School Named a Top Title I School in State

Silver Sands School has been named a top Title I schools in the State of Florida by the East Coast Technical Assistance Center (ECTAC).  

Alan Lambert, Silver Sands School Principal, two teachers, Heather Barrow and JanaLou Mills, and Joan Pickard, Title I Director for Okaloosa County, attended the Exceeding Expectations Conference in Tampa, Florida on May 6th to receive recognition for this award.  They were also asked to present the instructional practices that the school implements.

“We are the first ESE Center school to ever be considered for this award and were compared with regular schools,” said Silver Sands School Principal, Alan Lambert.  “There were only 17 schools (after interviews with the principal, leadership team, teachers, classroom assistants, students and parents along with classroom observations for instructional practices) out of all of the Title I schools in the State of Florida that were invited to the Exceeding Expectations Conference as an Award School this year.”

In 2012, ECTAC launched the Exceeding Expectations (E2 ) Project . From a database of all schools in the State, an ECTAC data analysis team identifies Title I schools that are exceeding expectations by showing significant progress in improving student achievement.  Schools with 50% to 100% of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch are first selected using criteria based on School Grade data obtained from the FDOE database.  These schools are then visited by a team of ECTAC members for interviews and classroom observations.

After careful review of a combination of criteria consisting of 2013 FCAT scores and observations and interviews that occurred during our site visits, school are identified as either a Finalist or Award School.  In Silver Sands School’s case, the ECTAC used the Florida Alternate Assessment scores for growth comparison over two years and not the FCAT.

The Exceeding Expectations Conference provides the opportunity for Award Schools and attendees to celebrate and share successful strategies.  This exciting event includes a general session, breakout sessions where schools present their strategies, and an awards banquet where they are recognized for their accomplishments.  

The Award schools are from ECTAC member districts as well as non-member districts and all school districts in the State are invited to attend the E2 Conference.

“We are very proud of this accomplishment and appreciative of all the support given by Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. McKinley and the District to achieve this recognition!” stated Lambert.

Silver Sands School is a center school in Okaloosa County serving students aged three to twenty-two who have cognitive disabilities.  Some students are further challenged by other exceptionalities such as autism (ASD), emotional/behavioral disabilities (EBD), Down’s Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, Angelman’s Syndrome, missing chromosomes, physical impairments which make them medically fragile, and many other.  Many students are challenged with multiple disabilities, making their accomplishments even more remarkable. 

“The successes of our school is a result of dedication and hard work the students, staff, parents, community members and business partners, all of whom believe in and support our vision of teaching students the academic and social skills needed to become independent and productive members of the community,” said Lambert.

The students that attend Silver Sands School are referred by their zoned school based on the need for the intensive level of individualized support services that our school provides for students with extraordinary challenges. 

Silver Sands School was founded in 1968 and has undergone five additions due to increases in student population. 

“We currently provide educational services for 140 students through implementation of a differentiated curriculum which is individualized for each student’s unique needs,” stated Lambert.  “It is because our teachers and staff believe wholeheartedly that our students can achieve more than might be expected in light of their significant challenges that our students enjoyed increases in reading, math and science scores two years ago on the Florida Alternate Assessment (FAA) to the point that Silver Sands School was awarded an “Improving” rating by the State.  The recognition of increased learning gains in reading scores from 28% proficient to 40%, and math from 41% to 46%, is the result of paradigm shift in belief and investment that our students can achieve more, do more, and become more participatory and productive members of the community.  This past year, our students increased their reading scores from 40% to 66% proficient and their math scores from 46% to 51% proficient.  These remarkable achievements were beyond some people’s expectations for cognitively disabled students, but we knew they could do it.  To the delight of both our staff, parents, and not least of all our students, these gains resulted in an ‘Improving’ rating for the second year in a row, proving that exceptional students are capable of exceptional growth.”

The noteworthy gains can also be attributed to the use of multiple curriculum sources that meet the individual needs of each student.  Because students are taught at their individual instructional level, they can experience success, and success promotes motivation and excitement about learning.  The teachers collect data (Brigance testing pre-, mid- and post-, along with curriculum pre and post-tests) and use the data to drive instruction for each student.   They have changed their lesson plans to reflect the Charlotte Danielson model in order to help organize instruction for the week and month. 

“The staff also recognizes the importance of working with students to develop appropriate social and behavioral skills so that they will be able to interact effectively with each other, staff, parents, community members and the general public,” said Lambert. 

The Leadership Team is provided data related to the academic and social/emotional domains for students that need additional support in order to develop individual plans promoting success.  Analysis of individual data helps set clear expectations for instruction (Rigor, Relevance, and Relationship) and facilitates the development of a systemic approach to teaching (Gradual Release, Essential Questions, Activating Strategies, Teaching Strategies, Extending, Refining, and Summarizing) that scaffolds and aligns processes and procedures for teaching academic Access Points standards along with critical behavioral and social skills. 

“Staff observed that when students experienced academic success using an appropriately differentiated curriculum, maladaptive behaviors decreased and prosocial behaviors increased as a natural result,” said Lambert.  “Combined with targeted social/behavioral lessons, the numbers of restraint and seclusion reports to the State of Florida for students that were demonstrating that they were about to harm themselves or others have decreased to the point of almost nonexistence.”

The teachers provide instruction and supportive practice in the use of effective comprehension strategies throughout the school day.  During classroom activities, teachers have increased the amount and quality of open, sustained discussion of reading, math and science content.  They have set and maintained high standards for text, problem solving, conversation, questions, and vocabulary.

“The staff has worked hard to ensure that they increase students' motivation and engagement with reading, math and science by using strategies to incorporate essential content knowledge so that all students master concepts,” said Lambert.

The school has also begun a shift towards the use of technology to implement instruction.  With the help of business partners, Pandoras Charity and Title I funding, all classrooms have been fitted with projectors, mimios and computer assisted instructional programs.  A primary business partner helped the school purchase several computer on wheels carts with 30 i-Pads each as well as  the installation of 12 WiFi hotspots positioned throughout the school to augment instruction. 

“Students who had been non-communicative began to communicate and they as well as others began to flourish,” continued Lambert.  “The use of assistive technology has a major role in increasing language ability for verbal and non-verbal students alike, and this plays a crucial role in curriculum, assessment, and instruction as a basis for appropriate program design.  Technology assists in the selection of screening measures, helps identify systemic patterns of student need with respect to language skills and assesses the need for appropriate Assistive and Augmentative Communication (AAC).  The leadership team provides technology and professional development trainings for staff in order to maximize use of technologies that will promote learning and student success.”

The Leadership Team meets every other week to help monitor student progress and problem solve when expected progress is not being made.  The team provides a common vision for the use of data-based decision-making, ensuring the effort to collect and analyze data for programmatic decisions, set high standards for student proficiency, contribute to and communicate to all stakeholders the school’s consensus vision of ongoing literacy and math development.  The team develops measurable goals and action steps to improve literacy and math learning in all content areas.  The team allocates adequate resources including materials, technology, time, and staff to support the school’s curriculum planning and implementation. 

“Our students are provided with intense, small group instruction that targets their unique abilities and needs in academic, adaptive, and social-behavioral domains,” stated Lambert.  “Because many of our students demonstrate regression of critical skills during breaks in instruction, an extended school year is offered to eligible students in order to provide additional support throughout the summer.  As during the regular school year, ESY provides them with specialized instruction targeted for their individual needs and enrichment activities through community based experiences.”

Silver Sands School also provides a School To Work Transition program for students with disabilities that are typically in their last three years of school and who meet the criteria.  This program allows students to earn vocational credits and develop practical skills that may help them acquire employment.  Participating students are given job experience on the actual work sites and are taught essential daily living skills through the program.  Students learn how to fill out a job application, conduct themselves during an interview, and what constitutes appropriate dress for the job in addition to actual experience at contracted job sites which challenges them to put their skills to practical use.  Teachers and job coaches provide training in practical life skills such as personal safety and how to fill out forms requiring medical information, etc.  The School To Work Transition program also provides information to the students and their families about Vocational Rehabilitation and other programs to assist them in making a successful transition into adult living. 

The students and staff of Silver Sands School give back to the community through a variety of groups within the school.  During the 2012-2013 school year, the school formed a Key Club, which has been recognized as the first ever for a special education center school in the history of Kiwanis International.  The Key Club has been actively involved in community service projects and fundraising to give back to the local area.  Another group of our high school students makes gift tags to sell, earning money which is eventually distributed to other agencies, who in turn give to charities which the students select.

“Parent involvement has also increased with the paradigm shift in beliefs and expectations that has taken place over the last several years, and all parties are excited to share in providing programs and activities that will make a difference for our students,” said Lambert.  “Parent Nights feature guest speakers, inform parents about academic strategies and are more focused to help advance students in all domains.  The parents are involved in providing art instruction for projects that will eventually be auctioned off as a fundraiser.  Silver Sands parents are engaged and have taken active ownership in fundraising, book fairs, Celebration of the Arts, Mother Daughter Tea, Dude Day, Prom, Alumni Day, Fall Festival, Field Day and graduation.”

Silver Sands School believes that with all vested parties working together, every student can learn and progress in a meaningful way regardless of physical or cognitive disability.

“We expect more of our students, and they have risen to the challenge because they are inspired with the belief that ‘they can,’” said Lambert.

Pictured above (left to right):  Kathi Harmon (Special Projects/ECTAC, Seminole County Public Schools), JanaLou Mills, Heather Barrow, Alan Lambert, Silver Sands School Principal, Joan Pickard (Title I Director for Okaloosa County), and Jeff Eakins (Deputy Superintendent, Hillsborough County public Schools).