Ralph’s Reflections: March 2023


Exceptional Student Education at Breakthrough

When I accepted the opportunity to serve as Breakthrough’s CEO, my mother, a forty-year educator, and a reading specialist told me, “the work we do is not for the kids who will find their way; the work we do is for the kids who struggle and need us the most.”

Breakthrough’s attention to Exceptional Student Education (ESE) helps us serve our scholars who need us the most. Our ESE Department consists of specialized educators who play a central role in ensuring instructional and student achievement outcomes. These educators provide support and services to scholars with disabilities who are eligible for special education services.

Our new Managing Director of Student Services, Dr. Ami Rudd, oversees the ESE Department. A seasoned educational leader, Dr. Rudd has a proven track record of developing and implementing new frameworks to ensure that all students have equitable access to curriculum.

I recently had the opportunity to visit our. Willard campus with Dr. Rudd; she was astute and insightful regarding the learning happening inside the classroom. I came away with tremendous appreciation for her observations during our visit.

Throughout her 20-year career in education, Dr. Rudd has seen several developments in the ESE space. “The education of students with a disability has evolved from exclusion to inclusion, from judgment to acceptance, and from disability to difference. I think we are on the cusp of truly meeting diversity with inclusivity,” said Dr. Rudd.

Dr. Ami

Today students with disabilities receive education in mainstream schools, and more than half are included in the general classroom for at least 80 percent of the day. By law, they are guaranteed an education that is not only accessible but also free, appropriate, timely, non-discriminatory, meaningful, measurable, and provided in the least-restrictive setting.

And I think that’s just what we’re providing at Breakthrough - an inclusive program that honors differences and rigorous instruction for all students.

Dr. Rudd’s passion for student achievement and education equity translated through our conversations. We have students whose disabilities range from mild to moderate needs. She values our thorough service delivery model to students with autism disorders, communication disorders, and physical and sensory needs (that affect educational opportunities) but recognizes there are additional opportunities to serve these scholars more effectively.

Shannon Rasheed

Dr. Rudd joins a passionate group of ESE educators in our network. I’m reminded of a brief encounter with Intervention Specialist Shannon Rasheed during a previous visit to our Willard Campus. She was excited to say hello as she prepared for the busy day ahead.

Shannon has been with Breakthrough for 10 years and credits her tenure to the great collaboration and strong support we provide our scholars. She partners regularly with families to increase academic outcomes of her students and has witnessed firsthand the benefit of consistency and collaboration.

She recalled one of her first students at our Cliffs Campus, a third grader who outgrew her IEP. “I worked with her consistently throughout the years, and she made great strides; by the end of her time at Breakthrough, she had exited from her IEP and is now a thriving student at Holy Name High School.”

Shannon also recognizes the misconceptions that exist about ESE and believes that all Breakthrough students are capable of meeting the high standards that we set for them. “Our ESE scholars are some of the hardest working students in the school, and they don’t back down from challenges. I try hard to debunk the misconceptions that exist about ESE by consistently shedding light on their growth both inside and outside of the classroom,” she added.


The support provided by ESE educators. like Shannon and Dr. Rudd helps us ensure all of our scholars receive a high-quality education that enables them to live a successful, choice-filled life. Our ESE Department is changing the trajectory of our scholars’ lives by minimizing barriers and helping them discover something inside themselves they never imagined.