A Passionate and Principled Principal
By Beth Labbe, COMPASS School Principal
On a chilly morning in November of 1995, I signed in at a Boston school where I would substitute teach for the day. As I did, I shared with the administrative assistant that I had inquired about a position at the COMPASS School, then situated in Jamaica Plain. I was ready to return to a public school setting, after spending almost seven years as a preschool teacher in my family day care. My youngest had started school and I was excited to start a new teaching adventure!
As I chatted with the woman at the desk, someone spoke up from the office bench behind me. “If you can get a job at COMPASS, go there,” the woman said. “That school saved my son’s life!” I’m sure she had no idea that her words would lead me on a 23-year journey to a fulfilling and exciting career as a teacher, and now Principal, at COMPASS.
When I graduated from college in 1974, special education was growing by leaps and bounds. We were beginning to practice ‘mainstreaming’, a concept that allowed children with disabilities the opportunity to be involved with their typical peers in some classes during the school day. In theory, children receiving special education would no longer be segregated in the school setting. They would be allowed to ‘be seen’ and to participate in school activities that might have been off limits before the passage of Chapter 766 in Massachusetts.
In the years since, special education has become a strong force. With the passage of federal mandates, schools provide services and supports to allow all children access to the general curriculum. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) allows an array of possible placements for children with disabilities, ranging from monitoring progress in a public school setting to providing separate and specialized care in non-public school environments that provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students.
As a private approved day school, COMPASS provides support academically, clinically, and behaviorally to students with severe needs. School districts access the resources at COMPASS through placements where children are educated in an appropriately supportive milieu. It is our hope that students will develop skills that will allow them to return to public placements successfully.
My first experiences at COMPASS were with high school students who were court-involved and had a long history of truancy. As my role expanded, I worked throughout the school getting to know all of our children. Each one came to us with a unique story, but all with behavioral and emotional issues that prevented them from learning in a public school classroom. Over the years, districts have expanded their abilities to maintain and educate students with varying disabilities. Students who come to COMPASS today show increased needs and more severe involvement in mental health and educational issues than the students we served in my early years.
When people ask what I like about my work, I tell them that I love to see our students move forward, even when the steps are small. I tell them that I am blessed to work with a group of amazing people who are committed to our children and their families. I am also grateful for an organization that values each one of our students and strives to make their challenges smaller and their lives better each and every day!