I am a DCPS Employee: Dr. Nathaniel Beers
Dr. Nathaniel Beers is the new Chief of Special Education and he sat down with us to answer a few questions about his vision for special education at DCPS and what inspires him. For more information on his professional experience and background, you can visit his Leadership Team profile.
What brought you to DC Public Schools?
I have always been interested in improving the education and health outcomes for children in DC. Initially, I came to DCPS to overhaul the identification of 3-5 yr olds who should have been found eligible for special education services in order to allow them to have a chance for improved outcomes in school and in life.
In the role of Chief, I am excited about expanding the impact I can have from early childhood where I started in DCPS to include students all the way through adulthood.
What are you and your team working on right now that you’re the most excited about?
I am excited about expanding some of things that DCPS has been doing well and raising the bar to provide high quality special education for every student. DCPS has been moving to improve early childhood services through Early Stages and the blending of Head Start.
Now we are positioned to expand those gains to the rest of elementary school. We are also now able to take lessons from the Autism programs and extrapolate the things that worked to students with other disabilities, like Emotional Disabilities.
Finally, we are now taking the transition services to the next level so that students have real, meaningful opportunities in the community when they graduate from DCPS.
As a leader, what is the vision that you hold for the Office of Special Education?
For OSE, we have the vision to be the district of choice for students with disabilities. That means that within DCPS, there are high-quality options that exist for families who are looking to have their children educated in DC. That doesn’t mean that every parent will choose DCPS, but that it will be a viable option for them.
We need to continue to improve the special education services that we provide and we also need to focus on the overall services and education that all students are receiving so that students aren’t being identified as special education because they aren’t receiving high-quality instruction in general education.
What do you wish more people knew about special education?
There are several things that are important to know about special education.
- Good general education provided by a high-quality teacher can do a lot to help a student who has special education needs. Every student comes to the table with strengths and weaknesses (whether they are eligible for special education or not). So ensuring that teachers provide high quality, differentiated instruction will benefit all students. We need to remember that special education is about helping students learn to use their strengths to compensate for things that are more challenging for them. The same holds true for all students in DCPS.
- We need to help students prepare for life outside of special education, so we need to prepare them to engage with a community that doesn’t provide them with differentiation. We cannot continue to modify assignments and teaching and think that that’s the only piece that will create success for students in special education.
- DCPS has an amazingly committed workforce in special education that wants to see students succeed. We need to support them with the appropriate resources and training that they need to push forward and provide better and better quality to our students.
Can you talk about a time when a student has inspired you?
I had the opportunity observe the incredible impact that one student was able to have on his classmates over the course of one summer. This one student was able to help his non-verbal peers develop more communication methods than the teachers were able to achieve alone. It was a reminder to me that students often demand more from other students than we as adult professionals will ever demand from a child.
We need to ensure that students with disabilities engage with their non-disabled peers and are part of the general education community so that they have real opportunities to be encouraged and pushed by their peers.
What is some advice you would give parents who are finding out for the first time that their child has a disability or delay?
I think the first piece is that’s important to remember is that it’s ok to be sad and upset with the perceived loss.
The second piece is to know and remember that regardless of all of degrees that teachers and other educational professionals in the room may have, you are still the child’s parent and know the child better than anyone else and you should be an active part in planning his or her education.
A disability doesn’t mean that a child can’t do something. It may take longer and it may look different, but there is still hope. But we need to work together to push these children to excel like we would push any child to excel academically and in life.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I’m here for the students and getting out to see students in the classrooms who are making amazing gains because they are getting high quality services and instruction is very rewarding.
Our students are incredible individuals who have so much to contribute and should not be marginalized. We must all remember the incredible contributions that each child, regardless of any disabilities, is able to contribute to society.
What’s something that people would be surprised to find out about you?
Many people know that I went to DCPS and that my children attend DC Public Schools. What many people don’t know is that I was the DCPS champion for swimming in my senior year of high school.