Establishing Partnerships and Routines for Student Success with Dr. Zoee Bartholomew, Ed.D.

Navigating the educational system can be a daunting task for both students and parents. The road from Transitional Kindergarten to 12th Grade can appear as a tactical course, and students and parents can find themselves discouraged and disappointed in the process. The educational system is designed for students to achieve milestones at the end of every grade level while maintaining passing grades. Measures of student success are often in the form of grading and standardized testing. According to some scholars, standardized tests are subjective, and not a thorough, equitable assessment for every student, serving more as a gatekeeper or barrier of access and opportunity to colleges and universities. On the other hand, some argue that standardized testing serves to help educators facilitate instruction.

Ideally, every student, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or ability, would graduate with a plan for a career or college.

Students would have available the resources that would support them during school and beyond high school graduation. Students who are eligible for scholarship opportunities would have a list of scholarships as well as a timeline for the application process and the due dates before the deadlines. The school’s counseling departments and community organizations would do their best to wrap-around services for students and families, ensuring student success, as student success is tied to our communities’ economic growth and sustainability. The reality is that not all students graduate with a plan. Some students don’t graduate. Some students and families have no idea what scholarships and services are available. Not all students have multiple sit-downs with counselors to discuss their goals and opportunities. Teachers and administrators often get bombarded with various tasks that are compliance-driven to support the operation of the educational system. However, everyone shows up from all walks of life, hopeful of building an ideal community where all succeed.

What about students who learn differently and require additional support?

Benicia resident Dr. Zoee Bartholomew is the Special Education Director and Assistant Professor at Dominican University. Dr. Bartholomew is a known Educational Consultant who works with families and school districts to build trust and establish Individualized Educational Plans for student success. Dr. Bartholomew stated,” My job is to facilitate this interaction between the parent and the district, and usually when I’m coming in, this relationship has already been broken. My job is to facilitate a positive interaction so that these individuals will be able to create a plan that is best for their child to be successful.” As a former classroom teacher with expertise in helping families navigate the educational system, Dr. Bartholomew went on to state, “Sometimes I am there to help support families and be at the table to be their voice. The districts have enjoyed my presence in meetings because they know that I know the rules and regulations around the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I was a special education teacher, and I know how to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and what it is like sitting on the other side of the table.”

Another way that Dr. Bartholomew has connected with families is through her book Behave.

It was vital for her to provide a guidebook in her voice for parents navigating the education system. Dr. Bartholomew stated, “I did not want to write using a lot of technical jargon and technical language. I wanted it to be an easy read, and it’s specifically targeted for my parent population.” Dr. Bartholomew went on to say, “It’s a short book and a quick read, and it also reflects who I am. I am very down-to-earth, laid back, transparent and I use colorful language, so with that, that is how the book is written. It is written as if you were sitting down in a session with me. There are no quotes and references to other people. I am speaking in my voice. The book is focused on helping parents understand what behaviors are paired with understanding some of the strategies and resources for making sure whoever is supporting them is being held accountable. It’s a fun book.”

The Pandemic was a reminder of the disparities that exist. Even though many school districts anticipate a regularly scheduled return to school for the 2021-22 academic school year, this also means getting back to a routine that supports mental and physical health. Dr. Bartholomew stated, “Start early with getting students ready for returning to school by putting them on a schedule that is similar to the proposed school schedule, which is very important because students have been living and participating in a hybrid model and getting back to the routine of getting dressed in the morning, leaving the house at a certain time and being somewhere at a certain time is very different than waking up, and rolling over to your computer.” Dr. Bartholomew went on to state, “Parents need to prepare for being supportive for the first few months of school, as it may be a little challenging because the students may feel somewhat behind with the rigor of school work and being called out in class and having to participate and now socialize again with friends. Parents need to be a little more patient and supportive with their students because they don’t want to create anxiety or any unnecessary stress. Students go into the school being asked many different things with instructions and directions that are being thrown at them throughout the day, along with trying to foster and develop relationships with peers and friendships, so this can be quite stressful for them in comparison to the average adult. Adults must remember that, at some point, they were a child too. Let’s be mindful of that.” Dr. Bartholomew recommends that parents do their best to actively participate in school activities; “Parents should be a little more active this year, check in with teachers to know your child’s progress, participate in parent engagement activities that will be offered, especially for high school students because you don’t want your student to miss opportunities for college and scholarships.”

Parents and guardians, get to know your students’ teachers because teachers are your first contact for questions or concerns.

The next step is the administrative staff. If the first two steps have been taken, reach out to the superintendent’s office, who will ask if you have spoken with the teacher and administrators on matters of concern. If there are concerns regarding school district policies and goals, reach out to the school board. Organizations offering scholarships, keep in mind some students and families might not get the notification to participate. If you work in a trade and can provide guidance to students, please reach out to the school district so our students have access to and understand their options early because the information does not always make it to the students who may need it most.

Dr. Bartholomew’s book, Behave, can be found on Apple Books and is available in paperback. For a list of educational services for parents and school districts, go to Dr. Bartholomew’s dissertation is titled Barriers of Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students. Dr. Bartholomew also serves on the Benicia Open Government, the Solano County Planning Council for Children’s Alliance, the Planning Council for the Childcare Group, and the statewide, regional advisory board for Individuals with Special Needs/with Disabilities.

Care Solace is a service available for families and Benicia Unified School District Staff seeking assistance with mental health services. The number and website can be found at 1.888.515.0595 or