Parent Stacie McEntyre' story

It is with great pleasure that I take this opportunity to convey my admiration and appreciation for the exceptional ACUTE Behavioral Program at Southwest Elementary School. The Program, under the direction of Principal Ari Cohen and Mr. Tom Porter, and with assistance from Mr. Rawlinson and Ms. Jones, has far surpassed any expectations I had when I agreed to place my 10-year old son with them.

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I understand the importance of advocacy on both professional and personal levels. Shortly after my son’s beginning school at Southwest, Mr. Porter outlined his understanding of my son’s problems and his education plan. As Mr. Porter began to unravel the intricacies of my son’s behavior issues and resistance to the educational process, an effective plan of action came quickly into focus. By the end of the first couple of days, my son was excited about his new school, about his new teachers, and about learning the academic material. Now, at the end of his tenth week, my son is transformed; he is a completely different child at home thanks to his bolstered self-confidence at school. Mr. Porter and Mr. Rawlinson have shown sharp insights into the key issues that govern my son and the way he learns. I feel optimistic that he can be successful in school and in life.

On a related note, I hope you share my excitement about the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” Competition. What follows are some key points I find intriguing:

“This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group. Instead, it will be based on a simple principle—whether a state is ready to do what works…

Main goals:
Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals;
Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and
Turning around our lowest-performing schools.”
The July White House Press Release goes on to note, “With $297 million in the Teacher Incentive Fund, states and districts will create or expand effective performance pay and teacher advancement models to reward teachers and principals for increases in student achievement and boost the number of effective educators working with poor, minority, and disadvantaged students and teaching hard-to-staff subjects.”
While, as you are aware, Southwest Elementary isn’t among “our lowest-performing schools,” the ACUTE Behavior Program has historically been populated with our lowest performing group of students. Mr. Porter has implemented an incredibly effective strategy in teaching this group of children. He is transforming lives with the use of a relational approach that ties academic performance to each child’s potential. Mr. Porter is in no small way responsible for giving these children a real chance of success in college and in the workplace; his approach capitalizes on the opportunity to integrate effective emotional management skills before the transition to a middle school environment.
I was admittedly nervous and skeptical upon my first meeting with Mr. Porter. My fears were quickly assuaged as it became clear that I was talking to a unique, talented teacher with a strong passion for his very important work. I was curious why he would choose to work with a student population that is widely considered to be among the most difficult (children with well-documented behavioral issues, IQ challenges, psychiatric disorders, and often heart-breaking family situations). I asked, “Why do you do this work?” He thought a moment and responded, “Because these kids need someone who really cares about them and understands them.”

He has an undeniable talent for working with these kids. Furthermore, he really does care about and understand each of them. He makes my child feel safe in school and helps him integrate emotional management skills, which in turn allows him to achieve academic performance far beyond what we imagined possible. In this respect Mr. Porter is more effective than any teacher or mental health professional Andrew has ever known.

As President Obama referenced as a goal in his “Race to the Top” initiative, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Porter are “doing what works” with one of the most challenging groups of students in the school system. I sincerely hope that Durham Public School recognizes their innovation and effectiveness and chooses to duplicate this approach so that more children in need might have access to this type of wrap-around education, and with it a chance for a lifetime of success.

from Stacie McEntyre, MSW, LCSW, CEDS on Saturday, April 24, 2010

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