Learn More about NWSOIL Academic Approach
PUBLIC STATEMENT – February 2023
Dear Community Member,
We are aware of media references to Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL) amidst the call for special education reforms in Washington. While the provision of special education services and the often co-occurring behavioral health needs of our students are complex topics requiring focus and resources, the recent Seattle Times and ProPublica articles really miss the mark. Based upon anecdotal comments from a small number of guardians and former employees, the headlines and narratives are sensationalized and egregiously mischaracterize our programming, environment and services.
The staff of Northwest School on Innovative Learning work tirelessly to educate and care for the students that districts and families have placed with us, and continue to entrust within our school.
We greatly appreciate the ongoing support we’ve received from public school personnel, families of current and former students, and regulators since the news stories were published. These referral sources understand what we do, have experienced our services, and recognize that NWSOIL plays an important role in educating children that other schools are not able to accommodate. Our motivations continue to be the hundreds of students that we educate, support and guide; our guardian and referral satisfaction scores; and our education metrics. We are committed to continuous improvement and compliance with regulations, as all schools should be.
At NWSOIL, we are proud of our overall academic and clinical performance and earned reputation for partnering with local school districts to support their student’s complex educational and behavioral needs. NWSOIL leadership and staff strive for excellence each and every day, yet are continually looking to improve our quality of service.
NWSOIL Leadership Team
About Northwest School of Innovative Learning
NWSOIL is a behavioral, therapeutic and academic learning program designed for students from kindergarten through high school. Located in Tacoma, we receive referrals from the home (local) school district of students with Individual Education Plans, to be considered for our program. Once a school district has determined that all resources within the district have been exhausted in an effort to support a student, NWSOIL is one of the out-of-district placement options at their disposal. As mentioned previously, currently NSWOIL receives students from more than 40 school districts.
Our mission is to provide education for children with complex educational and behavioral needs. Further, we are highly committed to providing our students the educational services and behavioral health therapy and treatment they need so they can advance their mental, social, behavioral and academic well-being and return to their home school districts, community, and secondary and education and services as soon as possible.
We are an approved Non-Public Agency (NPA) through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Our school’s latest NPA applications were most recently reviewed and approved in July 2022. We regularly meet or exceed OSPI expectations and requirements, including staffing protocols.
Northwest School of Innovative Learning is committed to fostering the social, emotional, psychological, physical and intellectual well-being of each child. We believe students must be taught, encouraged and expected to take responsibility for their choices at school, at home and within the greater community. Our school works collaboratively with parents/guardians, school districts and other involved professionals to support the needs of each student. Through the services provided, our students gain the skills necessary to return to their home school districts.
The Children We Educate
In partnership with school districts, parents, guardians and other stakeholders, the IEP Team creates, modifies and implements each student’s IEP and treatment plan goals so that they may rise to their full potential. Students may attend our school for a short period of time, or they may stay with us from elementary through graduation.
Our students typically experience one or several of the following conditions:
- Disruptive behavior patterns in home and school
- Inability to progress academically in a standard school setting
- Inability to succeed in school-based special education programs
- Failure in a variety of school settings due to emotional or behavioral disability
- Difficulties with social skills and peer relations
- Depression and social isolation
- Bipolar Disorder and Mood Disorders
- Learning Disabilities
- Limited problem-solving skills and poor insight
- Attention Deficit or Hyperactivity Disorder
- Impulsive and compulsive behaviors
- Opposition or defiance with authority figures
- Anger management and aggressive behavior problems
Mental Health Services
At NWSOIL, academic, social and emotional progression matter. To support students’ behavioral and mental health needs, our schools offer the following venues:
- Group therapy – delivered by a licensed mental health clinician
- Individual & Family Therapy – with the school therapist
- Recreational Therapy – assessed by a certified recreational therapist; sessions supported by therapists, teachers and support staff
- Behavior Interventions, when needed, use the least restrictive intervention technique (e.g., prompts to stop, 2-min time-out, and placement in the Quiet Room), while maintaining safety and an appropriate learning environment.
Despite the well-documented labor challenges in the healthcare and education industry, we have consistently met or exceeded OSPI requirements and maintain appropriate staffing levels that satisfy our students’ needs, including student -staff ratios. NWSOIL is also fully compliant with industry regulations regarding the required teacher certifications for our student population.
Use of instructors with emergency substitute certifications is a valid and legal option available to schools by the Washington Department of Education. Similar to other schools, we have hired persons with emergency substitute certificates to temporarily fill necessary roles. These individuals are required to have a Bachelor’s degree and like all NWSOIL employees, undergo a background check. Nonetheless, when we do hire someone with these credentials, we do check with the appropriate regulatory bodies and/or school districts to confirm that we are in compliance with their standards.
NWSOIL students are supported by special education teachers, general education teachers, program and recreational therapists, behavior intervention specialists and educational assistants who all work collaboratively, along with administrative staff, for the success of the children in our program. We are extremely proud of our staff for their dedication and commitment to excellence and for having student care, education and safety their top priorities.
NWSOIL currently has a total of 10 certified special education teachers on staff, or approximately one special education teacher for every 10 students.
In addition to direct service providers above, NWSOIL employs leadership to ensure there is appropriate supervision and oversight of direct care staff in the provision of high-quality services, and to create a culture of ongoing quality improvement. Below are some of the functions that exist at our NWSOIL facilities:
- Performance Improvement
- Risk Management
- Plant Operations/Housekeeping/Dietary
- Human Resources
- School Director
- Site Supervisors
- IT personnel
NWSOIL utilizes thorough hiring standards to ensure that only appropriate and qualified candidates are hired. All employment offers are contingent upon successful completion of a comprehensive background check that includes criminal history, education verification, professional license verification (if required), prior employment references, sexual offenders and predator registries as administered by the FBI, state regulatory bodies and other third party agencies.
Our students are those with IEPs and who have been recommended by the Special Education/ Student Services Departments of local school districts.
Our qualified staff works closely with the local school districts to create an IEP and transition plan that is specifically tailored to meet the needs of each student. Please note that we have not and would never have teachers without a SPED endorsement writing IEPs. This is simply not allowed by the school districts that we serve.
Our year-round program is offered 25.5 hours per week with the goal of improving student achievement and to prepare them for a successful transition back to their traditional school.
NWSOIL takes the responsibility of addressing the emotional, social, behavioral and educational well-being of our students very seriously. To this end, our programming balances a strong core curriculum, approved by the local school district, with the implementation of individual and/or group mental health therapies and therapeutic intervention. Also, we place students in classrooms that are best suited to their academic and social needs. We maintain appropriate student-to-staff ratios.
Recently we sought to improve our academic rigor by purchasing and training our staff on Achieve 3000, which has curriculum for both ELA/Literacy and Math. Our teachers also utilize the Edgenuity curriculum platform and STAR 360 diagnostic assessment system. All of these resources assist with our diagnostic / prescriptive approach to individualizing each student’s curriculum. Later in the year, we plan to purchase additional updated curriculum for Science and Social Studies as well as curriculum for our functional life skills students.
Also, we started the process of creating a Life-Skills “Lab” for our functional life skills students so they are able to learn practical, hands-on skills. We will be purchasing cooking equipment (i.e., stoves) and laundry equipment (i.e., washers/dryers).
In addition to meeting standards imposed by OSPI industry regulators, NWSOIL also seeks to fortify the quality of our educational services through use of our Best in Class Academic Accountability System. This proprietary platform consists of a set of national education standards, an annual school improvement plan and outcome measurement tools to help monitor and guide performance improvement.
As part of our academic standards, we also strive to create comprehensive student educational records to facilitate students’ transition in and out of our educational programs. The student educational recordkeeping at our schools typically include:
- Organizing student records to allow for proper educational planning and auditing
- Requesting student records to incorporate into each student’s educational record
- Pre-testing using a nationally normed instrument to allow for proper curriculum placement. Academic post-testing is also to be completed.
- Reviewing previous student records/credits and developing a class schedule that will allow the student to progress academically
- Maintaining a copy of progress reports and report cards that document credit earned per grading period while attending the program
- Maintaining Special Education students’ IEP and paperwork in the students’ record
- Generating general student transcripts to track credits earned, attendance and grades while attending the program so they may be translated by their home district
- Obtaining students’ behavioral health records, whether it be from hospitalizations, schools, outside agencies, etc., to develop a better understanding of what best serves the student
Lastly, we want our students and staff to enjoy a pleasant environment while in our program. While all our classrooms have whiteboards, below are some of recent upgrades we invested in to enhance our classrooms and student learning:
- 140 Chromebooks with the full Google Suite and GoGuardian Software
- 24 projectors to go along with our new Smartboards
- Smartboards for classrooms
- New computers for teachers
- Flooring, paint and new molding for windows and floors in 10 classrooms and office areas
- Furniture for classrooms and offices
Families and referral sources can visit the school upon request. Additionally, NWSOIL periodically hosts Open Houses which can be attended (in-person or virtually) to interact with staff, tour facilities and view resources available on each of the three campuses.
Quality of Educational Services
At NWSOIL we have long-standing policies and procedures that underscore our commitment to, and concern for, providing high quality care to our students.
We are continually monitoring and measuring of our performance through standard clinical and academic measures as well as solicit feedback from student and guardian satisfaction surveys.
This includes holding our employees to high ethical and professional standards, including maintaining NWSOIL’s mantra, “Be Safe. Be Respectful. Be Responsible.” Should staffing issues be identified, the facility leaders review and remedy as appropriate in a timely manner.
We also inform students, their families and staff of their right and/or obligation to report any incidents of alleged mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse or neglect. Any allegation of these types of incidents are promptly investigated and appropriate remedial actions are taken. Actions may include counseling, suspension and/or termination, if warranted.
Since even one unintended outcome is one too many, we take the time to determine what lessons can be learned from the regrettable incident and if necessary, update and/or enact new policies and procedures to reduce the possibility of similar situations reoccurring in the future. This includes cooperating with all regulatory and accreditation organizations, as well as law enforcement agencies, to address all concerns.
Our current standard operating procedure requires that parents and school districts are notified after every behavioral incident. On occasion, we have had additional online meetings with districts to discuss incidents in greater detail so their administrators are comfortable with our interventions and responses.
Restraint and Seclusion Practices
NWSOIL has standardized policies and procedures pertaining to restraint and seclusion practices. Our Corporate Clinical Services and Risk Management teams have programs in place providing monitoring services, training and best practices, including minimizing the use of these practices. At NWSOIL schools, use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others. They are utilized when all other approaches have failed, including verbal de-escalation and behavioral redirection.
School leadership supports these efforts by offering relevant staff a number of trainings on restraint and seclusion as needed. This training includes instruction on both verbal de-escalation and physical management techniques, on-going monitoring of the student’s health and safety and properly choosing the least restrictive intervention among many others. As part of the ongoing performance improvement philosophy at NWSOIL, school leaders are actively investigating therapeutic school models that don’t use restraints and isolation techniques. They also commissioned the creation of new sensory and de-stimulation rooms to replace seclusion rooms and are transitioning from using seclusion rooms to more proactive de-escalation strategies.
Reporting requirements for restraint and seclusion require notification to assigned caseworkers (when applicable), to guardians/parents of the involved student and to the student’s home district.
When a restraint or seclusion results in an involved student’s allegation of potential abuse or injury to the student, local Child Protective Services are contacted. State Disability Rights organizations and local Medicaid offices may also be contacted if a restraint or seclusion results in a significant injury (defined per CMS/federal rules as a burn, laceration, fracture, substantial hematoma or injury to an internal organ).
Other steps as necessary and appropriate may be taken by the facility following any use of restraints or seclusion to ensure compliance with all rules and regulations as well as to assess and evaluate such use for training and procedural refinements. For example, staff involved with seclusion/restraint always debrief following the incident to discuss antecedent events and what can be done in the future to prevent a similar incident from occurring.
NWSOIL leadership is committed to working collaboratively with local school districts to ensure the safe transfer and advancement of students placed in their care. We are proud to report that in the 2021-2022 school year, six students graduated high school and 41 more have successfully transitioned back to their traditional school.
Below is a sample of letters of appreciation that we receive from families who entrusted their child in our care:
- “I am so thankful for everything you guys have done. Each and every one of you are responsible for helping (my child) come so far. You will probably never know how much it means to us and how much we appreciate all that you do for him as well as every other student!” (parent/guardian)
- “My son has come so far since he started at NWSOIL. He is such a great kid and his school work and grades have improved so much! I don’t think this would have happened at a regular school. This school has done such a wonderful job with my son.” (parent/guardian)
- “The staff seem to really care about the kids so it’s nice knowing you’re sending them somewhere that is safe for everyone.” (parent/guardian)
- “NWSOIL has helped my son be able to manage his emotions and behaviors so much better. They can accommodate and help my child learn at his pace.” (parent/guardian)
- “NWSOIL provides a greater level of understanding of kids who don’t fit into general classrooms and have a desire to help the students cope.” (parent/guardian)
In our continual quest to improve the quality of our school program, NWSOIL leaders proactively meet with referring school districts on a regular basis to discuss our performance, answer any questions and / or identify areas for improvement.
NWSOIL leadership team gained positive feedback from the 19 local school districts it met with this past summer. The school districts mostly recognized NWSOIL for its high-quality services – for some districts, NWSOIL is where they send their most difficult students.
NWSOIL’s level of commination and willingness to collaborate with their staff as well as our responsiveness to any concerns or suggestions for improvement were also mentioned often.
One school district indicated NWSOIL has gone “above and beyond” for its students, while others have indicated some of the parents and students who were pulled out of program due to lack of attendance have requested to be put back in NWSOIL.
Other comments from referring school districts:
- “Thank you guys for always being willing to take on our most challenging cases, we know our students are in good hands.” (referring school district)
- “Your staff’s commitment and compassion for our students is unmatched.” (referring school district)
- “Thank you for going above and beyond to ensure student safety.” (referring school district)
In summary, every day we strive to do our very best to live up to the high standards we set for ourselves, including providing our students and staff the resources they need to be successful. We are proud of the positive educational outcomes we are able to achieve as well as the strong ties that we have developed and maintained with referring school districts and good standing with entities that oversee us. With our experience and expertise, we hope to collaborate with legislators, industry regulators, other providers, school districts, community leaders and families in efforts to improve services and create a better path forward for students with disabilities.