Here Comes the Sun Team!

By Sobel, Donna M.; Vaughn, Nancy S. | Teaching Exceptional Children, November 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Here Comes the Sun Team!

Sobel, Donna M., Vaughn, Nancy S., Teaching Exceptional Children

A young boy in kindergarten will benefit from the collaborative, inclusive approach to special education in this elementary school. The school is part of an innovative district that has developed a collaborative program in response to the need for technical assistance and support for students with severe disabilities being served at various neighborhood schools.

This project provided intensive support to individual schools so that all students would experience more success in their neighborhood schools. Multidisciplinary team members provided consultation, collaboration, and modeling to better prepare staff members to meet the unique educational challenges that they were encountering.

This article highlights the inclusion model, which resulted in enhanced classroom and school practices and programming for students with significant educational needs. Here, we describe

The collaborative program development and design.

Student, family, and educator outcomes during and after the intervention.

Benefits to the district-level special education department.

Inclusion in Boulder Valley

The Boulder Valley School District in Colorado covers a geographical area of 575 square miles and educates approximately 25,000 students within 56 different schools. During the spring of 1993, the Boulder Valley School District's Special Education Department held many meetings with teachers, parents, and administrators to discuss current inclusionary practices. At that time, the general trend of the school district was clearly toward more neighborhood schooling of students with severe or multiple needs. Of the almost 3,000 students that were identified with special needs and receiving services, approximately 80% were attending their neighborhood school, while the remaining students were transported to a magnet or self-contained program. This trend during the early 1990s toward neighborhood schooling obviously caused the numbers in local "center based" programs to drop while the need for teacher expertise in all schools broadened.

Organizational Framework

Beginning initially as a brainstorming session among the district level special education management team, one coordinator and a special education teacher were identified to explore delivery options. These professionals conducted individual focus meetings with various parent, community, and school district groups. Participants were asked to suggest options for how services could best be delivered. The groups spent a long time in conversations negotiating the common themes among the groups. Figure 1 shows a framework of themes that emerged from those discussions.

Through these extensive discussions with stakeholders, we determined that the district needed an innovative system. It appeared critical that this new system be driven by the key elements of flexibility, creativity, and professionalism. The name SUN team stands for Supporting Unique Needs.


Administratively, we obtained staff for our team solely by restructuring current personnel. This included itinerant staff, as well as reallocating the time of staff members who formerly worked with intensive/self-contained or focus programs that were now being shifted to neighborhood schools. Specific staff allocations to the SUN team have varied each year to align with the needs of the district's special education services.

Yearly allocations have ranged from 3.5 to 6.5 certified staff positions, in addition to I full-time coordinator position. The composition of these positions is based on expertise in specialty areas, such as speech/language, literacy, and behavioral or cognitive challenges, Because of the characteristics of the specialty areas and the needs of the students, student caseloads are ever changing; therefore, a consultant does not have a set number of students on his or her caseload.

Student Referrals

Each year, approximately 50 new student referrals are made to the SUN team, with 30-40 students continuing with services from one year to the next. …

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