February 27, 2016

SWIFT Program’s Effectiveness Questioned

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Montpelier (Feb 24) – The SWIFT program, a transformational special education program, was adopted by several Vermont school systems; however, it has since been dropped by one district, forcing the House Committee on Education to take a deeper look into the effectiveness of the program.

SWIFT (Schoolwide Integrated Framework For Transition), is a national K-8 program that was established to provide technical assistance to schools looking to improve the way they educate those with special education needs. The SWIFT model focuses on what they refer to as an “equity based education,” which means integrating special education into the rest of the school so every student feels as though they belong, while their needs are fully met and supported.

Several Vermont public schools decided to adopt the program in 2013; however the program was met with mixed results. Marisa Duncan-Holley, Director of Special Education for Windham Southeast, was excited to learn about the program, “to me it was a gift of, let’s look at education through a different lens.” Marisa was happy to hear that Bennington and Brattleboro were to pick up the program; however, it was to be funded through the state of Vermont rather than the federal grant.

Marisa eagerly adopted the program in the Brattleboro school, and watched it become a success due to positive changes made due to the program. However, a year into the program, Bennington decided to discontinue SWIFT, making funding for the Brattleboro program no longer possible. However, if SWIFT was such a success in Brattleboro, what went wrong in Bennington?

The Committee called Wendy Pierce, the Special Education Director for Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, to hear her side of the story, and why Bennington decided to drop the program. At first, Wendy was excited about the idea of SWIFT; however, she quickly found the process of implementing SWIFT to be difficult. The lack of technical assistance provided to the school alongside not having a SWIFT representative in the district led to the school trying to implement the program on their own. In the end, Wendy found that “it just wasn’t meeting the needs that we had.”

This research being done by the Committee is part of a legislative effort to restructure special education funding throughout the state. The SWIFT programs will continued to be analyzed to look at the most beneficial and cost effective ways schools can manage special education.

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