KU-developed school improvement system draws rave reviews in Washington, D.C.

A system developed in Kansas to help ensure success for all students is drawing rave reviews in the nation’s capital.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, after a March 14th visit to Ann Beers Elementary School in the Washington, D.C., school district, commended the faculty, staff and families on their efforts to ensure the academic success of all students, including students with disabilities and noted the school’s “extraordinary job at inclusion.”

Wayne Sailor

The school uses the Schoolwide Applications Model, a comprehensive school reform program that engages the entire school staff and works to achieve a safe and orderly learning environment where all students receive the support they need, including students with disabilities. The system was developed by Wayne Sailor, professor of special education and associate director of the Beach Center on Disability at KU. Major collaborators were Blair Roger, an educational consultant from San Francisco, as well as Amy McCart, assistant research professor, and Nikki Wolf, research assistant, with the Beach Center.

Sailor and Roger provide research, training and technical assistance activities on contract to the Washington, D.C., school district through SAMSCHOOLS LLC.

SAM was first implemented in the Kansas City, Kan., school district at White Church Elementary School. In 2005, White Church became the top performing elementary school in the state of Kansas. Douglas Elementary School in Kansas City, Kan., followed suit and made strong gains over a two-year period. The SAM model was then exported to the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, Calif., where it became operable at scale in all of the district’s schools. In 2003, Ravenswood was the second-lowest performing school district in the state of California. They have shown impressive gains year by year since that time.

“Typical schools tend to be fragmented with respect to services and supports for particular populations,” Sailor said. “When you integrate these resources such that all students can benefit from all resources, you get the demonstrably better academic outcomes. We call that a school-wide approach hence the term Schoolwide Applications Model.”

Duncan visited Beers Elementary with Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, who was commissioner of education for Kansas from 2007 to 2009.

During their visit, Duncan and Posny visited second- and fourth-grade SAM classrooms and participated in a roundtable discussion with school administrators, teachers and parents. Beers Elementary is one of 16 public schools in the District of Columbia that participate in SAM.

“Their philosophy there is as profound as it is simple,” Duncan sais. “They told me repeatedly that they’re preparing all their students for success in one society, not a general ed society and not a special ed one. That world simply doesn't exist.”

Sailor is training doctoral students to continue and expand the SAM model through a U.S. Department of Education grant that specifies students should receive training and experience on SAM school sites.

More information about Duncan’s visit can be found on the U.S. Department of Education website,

Information about SAM is at samschools.org.

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