Lake Forest Town Hall

Updated: Jun 22

In March 2021, Dr. Carol Quirk was the speaker at a Town Hall held in Lake Forest, Illinois, where she presented on “The Power of Inclusion.”

Audio Transcript

Chala Holland (00:06):

Thank you. Good evening, everyone. I am Chala Holland, principal of Lake Forest High School. I would like to thank you for taking the time to join us for an evening keynote and discussion focused on our district’s work of fostering an inclusive learning environment. We’re excited to have Dr. Carol Quirk join us as an expert in this field, and also as a great resource to our district in district 67. It is my hope that you learn more about the topic of inclusion and why it is that the center of our work to reach, meet, and exceed the learning needs of every single student in our district without exception. While there may be attempts to make this discussion into something more than it actually really is, at its core, it directly connects to our mission, vision, and core beliefs about students. And it challenges us to put our words into actions with students at the center.

Chala Holland (01:06):

I’m very proud of district 115’s core values. Every student has an incredible capacity to learn. Our responsibility is to create an environment that maximizes the potential for each student’s growth, including the willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes. Another value: our school is only as good as its teachers, and therefore we must develop, invest in, and retain passionate and committed teachers and staff. Students thrive when they are actively engaged in solving problems that matter. And when we support them socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Respect is the keystone for all of our work. We demonstrate this as members of a learning community and operate with high integrity at all times. So those are all of district 115’s core values. Our core values of an inclusive education are: all students belong, all students benefit from general education, all students are competent and able to learn all students learn from each other, and all students deserve to attend school with their siblings and neighbors.

Chala Holland (02:18):

Personally, I cannot imagine anyone who would not want this for their child. These values are experiences that every single student deserves. We have a great opportunity to embody these values, not just through what we say, but through the educational experience we offer. This requires us to move away from complacency and learn, stretch our limits and grow. We will only be able to maximize the learning potential of Lake Forest high school students if we, as a district, are willing to do whatever that takes. I’m constantly inspired by this work and I’m so proud to work with other educators and our feeder districts, district 65 and 67, to be our best for students. I would like to introduce one of our educators and administrators who is a strong advocate and champion for students, Dr. Jenny Sterpin, our director of special education. Thank you.

Jenny Sterpin (03:20):

Thank you, Dr. Holland. Good evening. I have the honor and privilege to introduce Dr. Carol Quirk. We met Dr. Quirk two years ago at the TASH Conference, which is the largest inclusion conference. TASH works to advocate and advance inclusive practices across communities through advocacy, research, policy, professional development, and directly working with families and students. The inclusive practices that TASH validates through research has shown to improve outcomes for all students. We’ve personally seen these gains at Lake Forest high school as well. Dr. Carol Quirk is the founder and chief executive officer at the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. Otherwise known as MCIE. MCIE is a non-for-profit organization, working with schools across the United States to build teacher capacity for equity and inclusion for all. For the past 30 years, Carol has worked with state agencies, school districts, individual schools, and families resulting in systematic change and improve student performance in over 100 school districts.

Jenny Sterpin (04:33):

Carol has also had the unique opportunity to work internationally in Asia, Europe and Australia. Carol received her doctorate degree from John Hopkins University and her master’s and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut. Carol has received numerous community awards and was also named the president’s committee for people with intellectual disabilities in 2011 and 2012. During the 19-20 school year, we began partnering with Carol court in the MCIE staff. Our faculty and staff engaged in focus groups, completed surveys, and individually met with the MCIE staff to share their core beliefs and knowledge around inclusive practices. Many strengths emerged from these individual conversations, including that Lake Forest high school has a very clear vision, which is to support inclusive practices. Additionally, 97% of their teachers and faculty are absolutely willing to do the work to be able to create inclusive practices across all classrooms.

Jenny Sterpin (05:39):

Last spring, that work provided district one 15 specific recommendations in order to guide our work for the 20-21 school year. We engaged in a new master scheduling process to better support inclusive practices and our world history and biology courses, which has impacted so much of the work that we’re doing. Our entire leadership team has engaged in a book study with Dr. Quirk as well, in order to better support our teachers and their learning and growth, as well as our own. We have learned so much this year. Carol’s team has provided ongoing professional development for our teaching assistants, as well as our teachers, on how to adapt and modify a curriculum, how to ensure that we’re meeting IEP goals in the general education setting, and how to function as a collaborative team to best meet the needs of our students. As teams continue to build capacity, their ability to reach more students is evident. As we welcome Carol Quirk, I want to highlight one of our special education teachers, Joe Harmsen, who’s been instrumental in leading our inclusive practices for all students at Lake Forest high school. We are very excited to have Mr. Harmsen join us tonight as our moderator, as we engage in a question and answer session. But please welcome Carol Quirk for the keynote presentation, titled “The Power of Equity and Inclusion.”

Jenny Sterpin (07:10):

Carol, you’re on mute.

Carol Quirk (07:13):

Jenny, thank you so much for that warm welcome, and I’m really pleased to be here. As Jenny said, we have been working with Lake Forest 115 and 67 for the past a couple of years and are at least a year and a half. And I am really impressed with the leadership and with the values and vision that you all have and, and have shown. I’m going to share my screen so that you can see, rather than look at my face, you can see a backdrop of what I’m going to be talking about. Jenny shared some of our experiences over the last many years. I think when I think of inclusion and the power of inclusion, the result is what we see in families and children and in teachers who have come to understand what the power of inclusion is for children who may not have been included in the past.

Carol Quirk (08:11):

When we think about inclusion though, we know that there are many different definitions. Or we have a definition, but many, if you ask many people, they will have different definitions. So I want to start out by presenting to you a definition that we have when I’m engaged with folks in conversation. And today I was meeting with four different state education agencies involved in a project called advancing inclusive principal leadership. And that is how principals can lead an inclusive vision in their schools. And at the state level, they were still struggling with how do we help our districts in schools have a common and shared understanding of inclusion, especially when so many teachers think that inclusion is a place. We hear the phrase,”let’s put that student in inclusion,” or “can that student go to the inclusion class,” or “are you an inclusion teacher?”

Carol Quirk (09:10):

And so if we are thinking about inclusion as a place you go, that’s really limiting. Just like special education is a service, it’s not a place. Inclusion is not a place. It’s what we do as human beings, as we engage with each other. One of the definitions for inclusion was put out by an organization called Inclusion International. That “inclusion is not a strategy to help people fit into the systems and structures that exist.” In other words, it’s not about saying, “is this student ready for inclusion or to be included?” It’s about saying, “are we ready? Do we have the capacity to include each and every child who lives in our community?” Inclusion is about transforming those systems and structures to make it better for everyone. So a lot of the work that I do with my staff at MCIE is we work with schools and we work with districts primarily to look at the organizational structures, the roles and relationships, the understandings and the traditions, the policies and procedures to say, “what are the barriers that prevent us from being fully inclusive?” So inclusion is about creating a better world for everyone, not asking everyone to fit into a single mold. So I’m going to show you a very, very short video. And this is not about inclusive schools per se, but about inclusion in general.

Carol Quirk (10:53):

And it loaded really well before.

Video (11:13):

So inclusion is about us being ourself. The presupposition is that the more we can be of ourselves, the more we can bring them to any kind of situation. Inclusion is about creating freedom from fear and anxiety. Our unconscious biases can be running these fear programs in us. They can be generating anxieties. We might not even know why. This is why it’s important to be able to understand what they are and how we can actually work with them for ourselves and others. Of course, it’s about feeling we belong. So we punished this feeling y