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Inclusion and Pursuit of Excellence for All

Date Published: March 25, 2024

Author: Libertas Academy Charter School

Libertas Academy Charter School in Springfield, MA currently serves 510 students across grades 6-11; 32% of students have special needs and 21% of students’ first language is not English. The school’s core values of inclusive community and excellence in all efforts are exemplified in the school’s approach to supporting its students.

Chief of Schools Ben Cruse coaches and manages Libertas’ two principals and instructionally-focused school leaders. He explained that the Libertas leadership team believes strongly in the value of inclusion for all students with the addition of thoughtful and targeted support to ensure each child’s success. The school’s emphasis on recognizing student growth means every student’s efforts are seen and celebrated.

Libertas’ co-teaching model enables all students to experience the launch and framing of lessons together. Then, during independent work time, students in need of additional support receive scaffolds in their work packets or are pulled out with a special education co-teacher or English Language Learner (ELL) teacher. Co-teachers plan and work together under the guidance of an instructional coach. Libertas has found that the more tightly the two teachers partner, the greater the positive outcome on student achievement. The school has also adjusted its staffing design to allow staff to either focus on compliance or implementation of special education plans, ensuring each team member can prioritize to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of students.

This year, Libertas has implemented a one-on-one consult model in which ELL teachers pull students one to two times per week to work specifically on language acquisition across the four domains: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. This approach allows teachers to directly target an individual student’s area of greatest need. Ben has been struck by the positive impact of the consult model on students’ academic achievement, confidence, and the adult-child relationship, and the school is beginning to experiment with applying the same model to reading support.

From the time a student joins the school, Libertas focuses on understanding that child as an individual. Students are screened initially and evaluated regularly to understand progress. Families of incoming students with special needs have a “family chat” so Libertas staff can gain a nuanced and deeper understanding of those needs. All Libertas students also have an advisor who not only works closely with them, but also communicates with families bi-weekly and at additional regular intervals to provide updates on growth. In addition, students with special needs have a dedicated case manager communicating on their progress against IEP and 504 plans every two weeks and providing dedicated support to the family.

Libertas’ focus on growth and students who are in need of intervention is a key differentiator for the school and is especially meaningful for multilingual learners and students with special needs. Ben believes that growth goals make success accessible to everyone – and this approach powerfully inspires both students and teachers. The Libertas middle school ranks #2 in the state for student growth in ELA and #5 for student growth in math per the 2023 MCAS standardized achievement tests. Libertas is intentional about creating a school culture in which every child feels seen. The school’s regular award ceremonies are one structure that epitomizes the Libertas approach. Celebrating progress demonstrates to students that effort is recognized and powerfully motivates the community to continue its pursuit of joy and high expectations for all.