Special Education Executive Director Hired

Zakiyyah McWilliams has been selected by Superintendent Banda as the Executive Director of Special Education.

From the announcement:

Zakiyyah McWilliamsMs. McWilliams brings to Seattle more than 30 years of experience in education, with a strong emphasis on students with special needs. In her role, she will oversee all aspects of our Special Education department and will communicate and collaborate with families, staff and administrative staff.

Ms. McWilliams comes to us from the Compton Unified School District, where she started in 2007 as Special Education Program Administrator and since 2011, has been the Administrator of the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) Support and Compliance. She is currently Compton’s lead for disproportionality and focused on developing a district-wide plan to reduce the over-representation of students in Special Education.

She started her career as a special education teacher, then served as principal in the Pasadena Unified School District and as a consultant in the Division for School Improvement with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. She also has experience as a part-time instructor for California State University, where she taught a course called “Special Education Mainstreaming & Diversity/Multiracial.”

Ms. McWilliams plans to start at Seattle Public Schools in mid-May. She was part of a national search that resulted in six candidates. A hiring committee consisted of representatives from the administration, teachers, family members, Seattle Schools Advisory & Advocacy Council (SEAAC) and the Seattle Alliance of Black Educators.


Unknown said…
I am glad a decision has been made. It looks like the over-identification of students of color in Special Ed was an important issue to Supt. Banda. This is an issue that had triggered a corrective action plan for the district in November of 2012. Mary G.
mirmac1 said…
SEAAC informed the district that the highest priority should be on a proven track record with inclusion (least restrictive environment). Wonder if that was even considered.
Anonymous said…
what was the 2012 special ed corrective action plan? where can we read about it?

Jet City mom said…
Last January, Ms. mcWilliams was the interim SELPH director, do we know how long she held that position?

I like that Compton has a student on their school board.
Can we get one?
We do have a student on our School Board. His name is Dexter Tang and he's the president of the Student Senate. He is also a smart guy and I look for him to be running some major corporation or the country someday.
mirmac1 said…
I am concerned that this new leader is a cipher. Would have been great to be able to read about the great accomplishments in Compton. Perhaps they are still in the works. Nevertheless, sped families are expecting a leader with a track record of success with regard to making our students full-fledged members of their school. Not bottom-feeders as suggested on other threads and in the Seattle Times.
Charlie Mas said…
The focus - so far - appears to be from a District perspective. Priorities like reducing the over-identification of students of color is a budgetary issue for the District as much (or more) than it is an academic issue. Reducing referrals to special education is one of the primary benefits the District expects from MTSS, which is one of the Board four priorities for the year and a stated priority for the superintendent.

The MAP, by the way, is the screening tool for MTSS, which is why the District supports its use so steadfastly.

I would really like to see some more talk, concern, and action on Special Education from the student perspective - assignment, adequate service, compliance with IDEA, access to a least restrictive environment, implementation of authentic inclusive classrooms (as appropriate), and some freakin' empathy or compassion for students and families in frustrating and painful positions by schools and the district.
Unknown said…
Charlie, you hit the nail right on the head as far as what the families want to see!
Jet City mom said…
Thats great Melissa ( re student board member). Havent been able to attend any meetings this year, didnt know that was in the works!
Anonymous said…
I completely understand people's frustration with the special education program in Seattle. I am frustrated too, but comments like those of mirmac1 are the reason we cannot get talented folks to come work for the district.

The woman hasn't even hit the ground yet and you're already suspicious of her qualifications. If you are so interested in her background, then find out for yourself by contacting the Compton school district.

Most importantly, give the woman a chance to actually get something done without folks breathing down her back.

--Special Ed Parent Too
Unknown said…
@Special Ed Parent Too,

Have some compassion for mirmac1. I think it is important to keep in mind that Special Ed parents aren't born, they're made.

What the district has sowed, they are reaping. After years and years of unkept promises, unfilled positions, contempt for the law, and extreme lack of concern, it is natural for parents to have absolutely no trust in the system.

Hopefully, Ms. McWilliams will be someone who the parents can trust. The trust isn't there yet because the school district hasn't deserved it in the past.
Anonymous said…
Believe me @Mary, I understand the frustration and lack of trust. @mirmac1 hasn't cornered that market at all.

I guess what I'm saying is we as frustrated special ed parents can reap we sow as well and at some point have to realize that we may be contributing to the impossible special education environment by scaring off potential good hires.

This woman looks like she has the experience we've all be asking for. Now that she's here, let's not bring all our baggage to the table. Just let her show us she can do her job.

--Special Ed Parent Too
mirmac1 said…
Of course I hope she will be great! I just can't find anything on the internets about her or her accomplishments. Would have helped me to see rewards, aknowledgements, committees and accomplishments.

You know me. I research everything. I got bupkus.
Anonymous said…
Posters, let's not forget that the new executive director could be as good as it gets and she will still experience the dysfunctional system in SPS of GenEd noncompliance with and lack of accountability for IDEA. I work for an agency that supports special needs families to navigate this system. It is appalling how they are treated and the constant passing of the buck between GenEd and SpEd when a principal runs an IDEA in-name-only building. I predict the new Executive Director will last 18-24 months then leave after finding out that she cannot get anything done and that SPS has no intention and no capacity and no leadership strength to put general educators and administrators on notice concerning IDEA. The right hand left hand situation that families experience has not improved and we will have to see whether the person that everybody answers to before Supt Banda --Michael Tolley-- can do something other than deny that this is the case. I don't think he is listening, so far.

Sometime reader
mirmac1 said…
sometime reader,

I agree. It didn't take five minutes for Tolley to protest as invalid our experience of being bounced from the Special Ed Dept and Exec Directors of Schools (a post he used to fill).

(eye roll)
Anonymous said…
Here is a link from the Compton School district in CA.:


I cannot be sure it is the most up to date document but was not able to link to anything at all from their website. I am, let's say, "surprised" at some of the terms, such as "regular ed," and the many labels and segrgated classes listed and even some of the descriptions of services and use of the "mainstreaming:" term.

Will do my best to keep an open mind.

mirmac1 said…
What is very interesting how, in an overwhelmingly minority-enrolled district like CUSD, over-identification of minorities was an issue. Over hugely failing academic outcomes. Over warehousing, exclusion, and disproportionate discipline. Were there too many white students placed in special education? I doubt that.

The powers that be who felt this mid-level manager could lead our district with a vision for special education, obviously did not consider how Seattle is bigger and different than Compton. I don't say better. I say different.

Does anyone at JSCEE listen? Wait, I mean do they listen to anyone outside the syncophants and ed reform shills?
Unknown said…

The issue in Compton is different then here. The overwhelming majority of students identify ethnically as Hispanic. African American males in this environment still get over-identified as disabled, leading to labeling, lower expectations, etc.

From what I can tell, it would be very difficult to characterize Ms. McWilliams as an ed reformer.

I had an interesting discussion with another special ed parent a while ago. We both agreed that if SPS did hire the best candidate for the job, it would be difficult for us to even acknowledge the case because we are so used to getting burned.

Let's try to keep that in mind and give this woman a chance before we judge her.
Charlie Mas said…
I fear that Sometime Reader is going to prove right.

The job is impossible because the Special Education leadership must rely on the compliance of principals and teachers who do not answer to them. They have other supervisors with other priorities.

It is very very hard to manage people who don't recognize you as their manager - because you're not their manager.
Unknown said…

This is an issue we brought up with Michael Tolley last night at the SEAAC meeting. We said it nicely, we said it again and we said it again.

His first response was boilerplate about his expectations for all teachers and building personnel.

We reiterated with him about the validity of our experiences.

He didn't seem to get it at first, but I think we did get a little traction. I'm pretty sure we are going to have to keep hammering at it.

Anonymous said…
I'm concerned that this candidate has the experience we need, or adds anything to the district we didn't already have. We don't need more management - "just because". The job of special education - is really one of leadership. Special ed teachers are rarely student's only teacher. And a special ed administrators is only 1 administrator among many governing buildings, if they govern it at all. The person has to be incredibly persuasive, and walk the walk. Effective special educators show other staff how to embrace students with disabilities, and they don't do that with a line item on a review, or by dictating policy. It's about persuading people to come to 'yes'.

another sped parent
Anonymous said…
Has anyone spoken to her in person yet?

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