For DPHE ACT Coordinator, Support and Teamwork Drive Scholar Success


Sheila Sullivan is a teacher and ACT Coordinator at Democracy Prep Harlem Elementary (DPHE). One thing Sheila loves about the ACT Team at her school is their unity.

“The ACT team at our school is very much a team,” said Sheila. “You never feel like you are in it alone. It’s so cohesive. Every kid can benefit from that, but specifically students with unique learning needs really benefit from that teamwork.”

This team mindset means that Sheila knows there is always someone she can reach out to if she needs support.

“If I’m having a hard time reaching a scholar, I know who I can talk to and vice versa,” said Sheila. “Everyone is in constant communication. ‘What worked last year? What worked six weeks ago? I saw that this was working really well in your room, can I try that?’ It feels very open.”

ACT is an acronym for “Academic Collaboration Team.” This nomenclature reframes “special education” to remove the stigma some associate with special education and emphasize that educating scholars with disabilities is a team effort.

ACT teachers at Democracy Prep are equipped to maintain high expectations for their scholars while simultaneously meeting those scholars where they are academically. ACT teachers also receive ongoing professional development as well as compliance and coaching support.

“One thing that I like about Democracy Prep is that we look at any scholar who needs support,” said Sheila. “This includes scholars with an IEP (Individualized Education Program), ELLs (English Language Learners), and then students [without an IEP] who need at-risk support [which is additional interventions to achieve adequate academic or behavioral progress].”

In addition to Democracy Prep’s commitment to supporting all scholars who need it, another pillar of the ACT program is maintaining high expectations for scholars.

“This is my eighth year teaching and my third year at Democracy Prep,” said Sheila. “Something that’s really different [at DPPS] is the high expectations piece. Democracy Prep has really high expectations for all of their scholars, their ACT scholars included,” she added. “Our ACT scholars learn a little bit differently, but we’re still pushing everyone towards our really high expectations because we know they can do it.”

The Democracy Prep ACT program focuses on meeting scholars where they are academically.

“Our ACT teachers are really good at maintaining high expectations where they know they can push their scholars and then putting in layers of scaffolding or support where they know kids are struggling,” said Sheila. “[For example] scholars who come to us demonstrating a lack of phonics skills are supported with really explicit phonics instruction by one of our SETSS (Special Education Teacher Support Services) teachers. We start there while still making sure they’re getting what they need in their general education classroom and getting the critical thinking skills that they need.”

Sheila says another advantage of being an ACT teacher at Democracy Prep is the various levels of support the network offers with coaching, compliance, and ongoing professional development. Democracy Prep’s unique support network is part of what helped Sheila rise from ACT teacher to ACT coordinator.

The ACT Expo is just one example of the frequent professional development ACT teachers and coordinators receive throughout the school year.

The ACT Expo is an annual network-wide event where ACT teachers, coordinators, and managers come together for a day of collaboration and learning. Each attendee presents for 15 minutes on a tool or practice they have used with success in their own classroom.

“I think it’s a really nice opportunity to get to see what other schools and classrooms are doing and collaborate with various teachers throughout the network,” said Sheila. “As an ACT teacher, you’ve got to be really creative, and some students need a little bit more creativity or thinking outside of the box,” she added. “So the ACT Expo is nice because you see little bits and pieces of that creativity. Either you learn new best practices or see something that affirms what you do too.”

In addition to the expo being an opportunity for collaboration across the network, the event is designed to share high-leverage strategies that teachers can immediately implement in their classroom.

“[The ACT Expo provides access to] little things that you can take away and use on Monday,” said Sheila. “You get a quick hit and background of why it’s important and then either a skill, technique or resource. Sometimes you actually physically get fidget toys or things that are going to help your students.”

This year, the ACT Expo will be open to the public. You can find more information about the event and register here. All educators are welcome to come experience the extensive, high-leverage professional development we offer our staff.

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