Top Ten Tips for Principals for Successful ISS (Special Education) Open Houses

Jenn Choi
8 min readOct 23, 2023
An ISS (Special Education) Open House at Townsend Harris High School on Oct. 29, 2018. I remember being blown away to see snacks, coffee, and water. Someone was welcoming us- with COOKIES? photo: Jenn Choi

On behalf of the NYC Parents of Teens with Disabilities group (1k+ mbrs), we want to share that our community is elated to have read emails from Deputy Chancellor Rux and a few of the superintendents who are in support of the parents’ requests for Instructional Support Services (ISS) aka Special Education Open Houses this year. In this post are some suggestions for school administrators who will be putting together these events. We hope that you will find this information useful.

NOTE: These tips are provided under the assumption that “success” is defined as parents understanding more about the school’s culture and capability so that when the families make their list of 12, they prioritize their choices in the right order based on credible up-to-date information.

T1: What is *Special* About Your Special Education?
When you tell us that you will follow the IEP, or that you have services such as ICT and counseling, that is like telling us you will follow the law. As every school must follow the law, hearing those words makes us think that for you, special education is more of a compliance goal than it is a quality instructional goal.

We know there are administrators and teachers who believe special education is an art and an important field of study. If you could share what exciting things you are doing in ISS just how other schools proudly describe their new hydroponics lab or their wide variety of humanities courses, we would love to hear about it. We believe this information is out there and that you have inspiring stories to share.

T2: Make It Accessible
Parents still don’t expect most schools to offer an ISS Open House, so please know that many parents may not show up to your ISS Open House because they are not even looking for it. It should be listed where all open houses are listed and the date of your open house should be on your school website and calendar. If in-person, the accessibility of the open house location should be described on the flyer. Closed captioning should be turned on for virtual open houses.

Whatever your turnout was, please make the info accessible by recording it with good audio. Please place the recording on your website with closed captioning.

T3: MS Outreach is Critical
If you would like to expand and diversify your pool of applicants, then please reach out to middle school (MS) counselors. Sometimes MS counselors may mistakenly believe that certain schools don’t have the ISS staff capable of adequately supporting students with disabilities. There is an increased tendency for MS counselors to not suggest to students with IEPs to apply to a screened school for this reason. Additionally, access is further hidden as people do not know that these screened schools have a much lower applicants-per-seat ratio for the SWD category. That said, there is no question that there are parents who do prepare vigorously but with your outreach to middle schools, you can expand access and equity for students whose parents are overwhelmed by the application system due to work schedules, cultural, and language barriers.

Townsend Harris High School ISS Open House Fall 2019. Packed house, standing room only. photo: Jenn Choi

T4: Partner Material
Throughout preK-8, many parents have been through traumatizing situations in which, from at least their perspective, they have been lied to, promises have been broken, or they have been forced to be “a strong advocate” by emailing, complaining, being politely persistent to get schools to follow what is already on the IEP.

For high school, many parents of students with disabilities are looking for trustworthy partners more than “the perfect school.” They may even be coming to you with children with below-grade reading and math levels and you will now be tasked to ensure they graduate. They may be coming to you with a child with a 99 GPA who has no friends. Parents are looking for partners to help prepare their children for postsecondary life ( think: working on and around effects of disability to meet true potential aka “unique needs and preparation for further education, employment, and independent living”- the first line of the IDEA).

The best way to earn our trust is to talk about your growth in the past few years in the field of ISS.
What was the state of your ISS services?
If it wasn’t a good place, why?
What did you do to make things better?
How were you able to fund it?

We will trust you more if you tell the truth. We might even know some of it already because we exchange information as a community. Please remember, no parent wants to be a “strong advocate,” they would much rather be a “respected partner/team member.”

T5: Be Careful Not to Oversell-even by accident
If you can’t promise something, then please don’t say you do things that you don’t really do consistently. If you have never offered a particular type of service at your school then it’s best to say that up front. Some parents have reported that some schools have “oversold” their special education prowess at their open houses (general or special education) and found themselves deeply disappointed after a year. If you talk about important topics such as executive functioning, college prep, afterschool tutoring, and SEL, please describe how service provision differs for students with and without disabilities (ie. frequency, needs assessments, reminders, outreach)

Packed house at Bard High School Early College Queens Fall 2018 Special Education Open House, Bard High School Early College Manhattan also does such Open Houses. All of their college courses are on-site. They have been providing ICT in some of their college courses. photo: Jenn Choi

T6: Admissions Screening
If you have a specific screening process, we hope you will take the time to discuss that at your session. These submissions can be viewed to be similar to a “take-home test” in which appropriate testing accommodations for students with disabilities have not been adequately explored. There can be a tremendous amount of anxiety with these submissions for some students with disabilities. Please offer to answer questions until the final application deadline.

T7: FAQs and Agendas Can Help Us Know You More
Because there is no established culture of ISS Open Houses, you will undoubtedly have parents asking you questions that range from basic to complex. We hope you will use this precious and hopefully recorded time to cover questions that help us learn about your school. Maybe if it is possible you can do the following at the beginning of your presentation to devote more time to have parents know what makes your ISS different from others.
1. Provide an agenda and stick to it.
2. Share BASIC SWD FAQs in advance including general SWD FAQs that cover Admissions questions (ie. Is there bussing? What time does school start? When do you pull out for counseling? Is my child considered SWD for your school?)

If you have that in a memo and distribute that at the beginning of your presentation, you can devote more time to talk about what sets your ISS work apart from the rest.

T8: Your Website Can Change Life Trajectories
Did you know? Using Myschools Directory, a parent can find the 30 high schools with girls’ golf teams in NYC in under 8 seconds! However, if a parent wants to find schools in NYC that have been providing 15:1 classes on a regular basis, they will have to pick up the phone and start calling over 500 schools, one school at a time. We understand that things are subject to change but if superintendents could just give us a little list and if the schools can have this info on their site, this could save us time and maybe change the trajectory of our children’s lives. Other great info needed are:

  1. If you have related service providers on your staff? Which type?
  2. What exactly is the “partial accessibility” of your building? (putting a yearly “update” stamp on the information would be amazing)
  3. If you have the ACES, AIMS, D75 Inclusion, Nest, Horizon, for how long, how many cohorts, etc…
  4. If all teachers use Google Classroom streams for their classes
  5. If all teachers use Jupiter or Jumprope or similar
  6. How long you’ve had ICT and/or Special Class in which subjects/courses
  7. If all of your SE teachers have been trained by the NYCPS CAT team for high-incidence disability apps such as pdf annotation, text-to-speech, speech-to-text, Bookshare, notetaking
On FRI 10.13.23 the OSE sent an email to some parents entitled “Come to a High School Admissions Event for Students with Disabilities!” for a webinar on MON 10.16.23. Here is a screenshot of an answer to a question I often ask at NYCPS HS admissions webinars and the answer is always the same. Why is it SO MUCH easier to find a school with a golf team? Just because parents were provided a list of schools that have historically been providing 15:1, the list wouldn’t have to be a promise that the school would always do it. The above screenshot is what exclusion looks like. https://bit.ly/2023FallHSEvents photo: Jenn Choi

T9: Of Greatest Need for Many Students with Disabilities
If your school does not find it a rarity to provide any of the following services in the following situations, please share this information ASAP in your open houses, websites, and everywhere please:

  1. Special Class services in CTE courses — please
  2. ICT services in CTE course — please
  3. ICT services in AP/College/IB courses
  4. ICT services in LOTE (World Language) courses
  5. College Application and other Postsecondary Training programs for all students made more accessible to students with disabilities (extra steps are often needed for SWD)
  6. How are other programs and services (clubs, teams, peer tutoring, teacher tutoring) made more accessible to students with disabilities- some students with disabilities need more than just knowing that it’s there. Invisible disabilities are still disabilities.
cover of a presentation. It says Building the Bridge: Successful Transition to High School at THHS for Studens with Disabilities. Georgia Giannikouris Brandeis, Assistant Principal ISS, Veronica York, AP, PPA, Townsend Harris.
The ISS team at Townsend Harris has been developing unique strategies at this school for years. It goes way beyond AP and ICT. Services are individualized, compassionate, and skillful there. Click here for the presentation to parents provided in Fall ISS Open House 2022.

T10: Ask the Experts right here in NYCPS

THE MODEL TO FOLLOW:
Townsend Harris High School, Flushing, QNS
Principal Brian Condon, still at THHS
PPS AP Veronica York, still at THHS
ISS AP Georgia Brandeis recently left to take an important position at Central SEO.
As you can see from the pictures, they’ve been doing this for quite some time. Special education advocates often see AP York and AP Brandeis at conferences focusing on twice exceptional children which is a critical area of study when offering accelerated education to students with disabilities. THHS has been in collaboration with NYU for many years for their students with disabilities. At THHS, their ISS work is cutting-edge. As far as I know, they have always been willing to share their knowledge with NYCPS colleagues.

About the author:
Jenn Choi is a parent of two teenagers with disabilities. As an advocate at Special Support Services, LLC, she and her colleagues help parents and children with the IEP process. Jenn is also the founder of 2eNYC and the founder and current admin of the rapidly growing NYC Parents of Teens with Disabilities (1K+ members). Please take a minute to watch the below 4-minute testimony to the NYC Council Education Committee Hearing on Admissions (Jan ‘23). So many parents have experienced what is being described here.

Click here for the 4 min video https://bit.ly/HS-Admissions-Testimony-Video

and please read the Chalkbeat article: Few options: Many NYC high schools are off limits to students with disabilities

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Jenn Choi

Special Education Advocate at @go3snyc supporting families navigate the special education process, AT coach, http://specialsupportservices.com