Implementing Inclusion in Charter Schools

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by Dr. Chloé Marshall

Dr. Chloé Marshall is Principal of Imagine Hope charter school’s Tolson campus, serving students in pre-K through 8th grades in Northeast Washington, DC. She has committed her life to advancing the academic and social agenda of all students. In this guest blog for NICHCY, she describes the ways in which she supports inclusive practices in one urban charter school.

Imagine . . .

Photo of a variety of wildflowers

Imagine a landscape of dancing lilies, billowing sunflowers, blossoming roses, and whispering geraniums. This is a beautiful landscape with many varieties of flowers, all growing together in a field somewhere in our nation. When I think of beautiful gardens, I often think about my mother’s garden in Memphis, remembering how I would pick roses from her garden to take to my favorite teacher every Monday morning. My mom would gently say, “All roses are beautiful!” She was really telling me that everyone is important.

I would later live out this worldview in how I served the school community as a principal, promoting an inclusive learning environment for children and adults. Hence, this is how I see inclusion in schools today. I imagine perfectly well-rounded institutions of learning where all students are represented.

Now visualize a world that truly believes that all children deserve a quality and equitable education, and that students with disabilities deserve to be educated alongside their peers in the general classroom. This is a world that does not single out children with disabilities. This is a world that believes in creating positive learning environments for all children. And finally, think about how general and special education teachers can plan dynamic lessons together…when they receive the necessary support and planning time to do so. This synergy between adults is absolutely amazing to see in action and will leave you speechless when you witness professionals working so closely together.

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Effective Inclusion

In schools that practice partial to full inclusion, you normally see two or more teachers planning and delivering lessons to students with disabilities and general education students. I personally believe that we are all deserving of a unique and tailored, comprehensive education plan. When inclusion works at the highest level, there is a rising force of high expectations for all students that becomes so embedded in the culture and climate of the school.

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Serving Students in Charter Schools

Charter schools, today, are the final choice for many parents who are searching for a different public option outside the traditional school system. These schools offer parents a choice in curriculum and special programs. Charter schools are now popping up everywhere around the country and practically on every corner, reaching out to all parents. Every fall, the doors swing open to all families. Charters exist because the community cries an echoing cry for something different.

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Leading an Inclusive Charter School

As a principal in a charter school, it is paramount that I help create a school environment where children feel safe and secure and can learn and grow at their own pace in an inclusive classroom. As you walk down the halls at my school, you often see students embracing each other. No, it’s not perfect, but each day we emphasize our core virtues, which help to create a friendly environment for students. And when you walk into a classroom at my school, it’s very difficult to determine who receives special education services because we make it a point to focus on providing the best instruction possible, differentiating the content when needed.

Every day, I have the opportunity to promote a healthy, inclusive learning environment. This opportunity allows me to see through a different lens and create a system that works for all children and adults. I support teachers so that they can do their very best work for children by:

• Creating a common planning time for general and special education teachers

• Providing ongoing job-embedded professional development through professional learning communities

• Implementing a support structure to help all teachers analyze their teaching practices.

Serving as a principal in a charter school gives me the opportunity to change the landscape to include all students in the teaching and learning process!

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About Dr. Marshall

Dr. Chloé Marshall has served as a classroom teacher, instructional facilitator, assistant principal, and principal with Memphis City Schools. She has experience at both the elementary and middle school levels. She enjoys working with students, teachers, parents, and community members. She has committed her life to advancing the academic and social agenda of all students.

We know that good inclusive attitudes and practices can look similar in traditional public schools and charter schools. Please see our publication, The Facts on Charter Schools and Students with Disabilities, for more detailed information on serving students in charter schools.

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