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Sam Drazin

The department began the new school year with a professional development session with educator and disability advocate Sam Drazin.

In the weeks leading up to the start of school, AUSD’s Special Education Department invited Sam Drazin, a long-time educator and speaker, to talk to special education staff about the importance of creating inclusive spaces for students with disabilities. 

Drazin, born with the rare congenital disorder Treacher Collins Syndrome, is informed by his experiences as both a student with a disability and a teacher in an inclusive classroom. He also serves as the Executive Director of Changing Perspectives, an educational nonprofit that promotes disability awareness.

Inviting Drazin to speak is part of an effort to meet a larger goal that the Special Education Department developed to align with the AUSD’s Strategic Plan – creating more welcoming and equitable spaces for students with IEPs. Julie Venuto, Coordinator of Special Education, says a lot of this work rests on the department's effort to lead a shift in perspective among staff and students. "This feels like the beginning of more intentional work around the strategic plan," she says.

The department will continue offering students specialized learning to meet this goal. However, staff will also focus on creating spaces for students receiving special education services to be in community with general education students. "Students should have meaningful opportunities to build relationships with their peers, both inside and outside the classroom," Venuto noted, "It benefits both students with IEPs and general education students."

To create these inclusive spaces, the Special Education Department will emphasize and support the practice of co-teaching (having both general education and special education teachers in the classroom) , coach staff on best practice language to use when discussing disabilities, and continue to offer ongoing professional development with Drazin throughout the year.

Venuto underscored that these changes build upon the Universal Design for Learning framework that the department implemented, adding that this helps "teachers to be more intentional about meeting the needs of students in varied environments."

Randhir Bains, Senior Director of Special Education, looks forward to continuing this initiatve throughout the year. "We are excited to deepen our work on supporting our students who receive special education services this year," Bains said, "while expanding their opportunities to interact with their peers. This is crucial work for supporting the whole child."