News Briefs | FYI
January 22, 2024
Heenan appointed to lead special education at CDE
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has appointed Rachel Heenan as the new director of the Special Education Division at the California Department of Education. The Special Education Division provides information and resources to serve the unique needs of individuals with disabilities so that each person will meet or exceed high standards of achievement in academic and non-academic skills. Heenan will support the CDE efforts to aid schools and engage families and educators in ways that ensure the unique needs of students with disabilities are met.
“Dr. Heenan’s wealth of experience and dedication aligns perfectly with our mission to ensure every student meets or exceeds high standards of achievement, regardless of the challenges,” Thurmond said, in a news release. “Her leadership will be instrumental in advancing our commitment to inclusive and equitable education for all, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to thrive. I look forward to the positive impact Dr. Heenan will make as we continue our mission to provide quality education for every child in California.”
Heenan has worked in special education for two decades. She began her career in Massachusetts, working in the field of deafness as an instructional aide, a speech and language specialist, and a school counselor. After relocating to California, Heenan served as a social worker for a foster family agency serving Deaf/hard-of-hearing children and families.
Along with her extensive local experience, Heenan has also served in various education leadership roles as assistant principal, early intervention service coordinator and special education administrator. Prior to joining the CDE, Heenan was the director of special education and the Special Education Local Plan Area director for the Long Beach Unified School District, the fourth-largest district in the state. As the CDE special education director, her work will continue to focus on serving the underserved, addressing disparities in our educational system, breaking down barriers and creating a more equitable learning environment that benefits all students.
Heenan holds a doctorate from the University of Southern California in educational leadership, a master’s degree from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College in Boston.
Absenteeism contributing to widening educational gaps
The pandemic-induced dramatic increase in chronic absence affects students of all backgrounds and living in every location, according to a new analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education for the 2021-22 school year. Today’s extraordinary levels of chronic absenteeism are also widening educational inequities.
“All Hands on Deck: Today’s Chronic Absenteeism Requires a Comprehensive District Response and Strategy,” released in November by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, illustrates why taking steps to address today’s troubling absenteeism is in everyone’s interest.
The analysis offers recommendations for district and state action and lists four proven strategies to improve student engagement and attendance: family engagement, school connectedness, community schools and expanded access to health services.
The findings include:
  • Of the 14.7 million students chronically absent, approximately 5.3 million live in cities, another 5.1 million are in suburbs. Nearly 2.6 million live in rural areas and 1.5 million live in towns.
  • Chronic absenteeism affects students from all ethnicities. For example, in the 2021-22 school year, the largest number of chronically absent students were white (5.2 million), closely followed by Latino (5 million) and African American (2.9 million). Chronic absence also affected high percentages of students with disabilities (41.2 percent) and English learners (36.3 percent).
  • Students from communities that have historically had less access to equal opportunities to learn are much more likely to be enrolled in schools facing extreme levels of chronic absence. When a school has 30 percent or higher levels of absenteeism, the educational experience of peers, not just chronically absent students, is affected by the constant churn of students in classrooms which affects both teaching and learning.
In almost half (41 percent) of the most economically challenged districts, the vast majority (75 percent) of their schools have extreme levels of chronic absence. In these districts, 75 percent or more of their students receive free or reduced-price lunch.
By contrast, in the majority (65 percent) of more affluent districts, no school has an extreme level of chronic absence. In these districts, fewer than 25 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch.
The data are a call to action for districts, supported by states and communities, to lead an all-hands, multi-pronged approach to improve attendance and engagement. Districts should start by re-engaging students and families, listening to their challenges and working as partners to identify and create solutions for attendance barriers.
Read the analysis at www.attendanceworks.org/research/attendance-works-reports/.
New tool helps educators evaluate AI risks, benefits
A group of edtech experts has created a new resource to help education authorities, school leaders, teachers and others understand the potential risks and benefits of artificial intelligence in education. TeachAI — in collaboration with Code.org, CoSN, Digital Promise, the European EdTech Alliance, James Larimore and PACE — has launched an AI Guidance for Schools Toolkit to help school systems worldwide meet the urgent need for guidance on the safe, effective and responsible use of artificial intelligence.
The need for this information is clear: Only 7 percent of school systems have provided guidance on the responsible use of AI or have resorted to banning the latest AI tools, according to UNESCO. Yet 81 percent of parents and 72 percent of students believe that guidance on the responsible use of generative AI for schoolwork would be helpful (CDT).
By engaging their communities in developing thoughtful guidance, an education system may realize the potential benefits of AI to improve learning outcomes, support teacher instruction and quality of life, provide students with critical skills and enhance educational equity.
The AI Toolkit offers a framework for incorporating AI and highlights seven key principles for educators to consider in developing guidance on AI and education for their staff and students. Based on these principles, the AI Toolkit also offers real-world examples and sample language for school guidance on the use of AI, letters to stakeholders, student and class policies, and an “AI in Education” slide deck. Access the free toolkit at www.teachai.org/toolkit.
Open ACSA Leadership Assembly to be held Feb. 8
All ACSA members will have the opportunity to see ACSA leadership in action during the first ever open Leadership Assembly. This virtual event will take place from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Feb. 8. Attendees will hear from leadership on the state of ACSA and future plans for the association. They will also be able to network and share ideas with colleagues around the state on topics such as AI, staffing shortages and issues related to student success, discipline and mental health. All interested attendees must register for this event. An email will be sent closer to the event date with a link for members to register.
CAAASA hosts summit on March 13-15 in San Diego
The California Association of African-American Superintendents and Administrators will host its annual Statewide Professional Development Summit, “Brown v. Board of Education: 70 Years Later,” on March 13-15, 2024 in San Diego. The conference will focus on the landmark civil and educational rights case with a special keynote address from Cheryl Brown-Henderson, daughter of Rev. Oliver Brown, a litigant in the historic case. The goal of the professional development summit is to provide educators with strategies, solutions and resources to ensure success for students of color. For more information and to register, visit www.caaasa.org/2024caaasasummit.
Regions 5, 6 & 8 host Equity Symposium in Santa Clara
ACSA Regions 5, 6 & 8 will host the second Bay Area Equity Symposium Feb. 9-10 at the Santa Clara Marriott. Educational leaders will come together to explore, to innovate, and to reimagine a pedagogy of possibility. Register at bit.ly/3Sm8OSk.