What is new in Special Services?
Last year, the leadership of the Stonington Public Schools commissioned a comprehensive review of special services in Stonington Schools. The group that conducted this review was Futures Education, an organization that looks globally at how a school system can most effectively and efficiently provide special services to their students. The purpose of this study was to examine five primary areas:
- The allocation of supports and associated documentation (Interventions and Documented Progress
Monitoring, IEPs, Measurable Goals etc.);
- Financial support associated with the delivery of special education;
- The efficacy and efficiency of related services providers; and
- The organizational structure of the special education program
The intention of this careful examination was to answer this question posed by the leadership team… To what degree do the services under review promote optimal educational outcomes and student access to his or her curriculum? The examiners completed the analysis by considering three sources of information: interviews, IEP reviews, and a financial analysis. The report presented to the Board of Education in August was organized into findings and recommendations and has guided the work of the Special Services Department this year. Here’s a look at the highlights of the report and the implications for our work from the findings and recommendations.
After a review of the organizational structures in place, it was noted that there is a strong culture of ownership of all students in Stonington, however there is a variable understanding of the ultimate goals of special services. This year in Stonington, we have continued a very importance partnership with the State Education Resource Center, SERC. Through this partnership, all staff have been trained in Step-by-Step which is a process for promoting inclusive education to allow all students access to the curriculum with support as appropriate. Inclusive practice is essential in order to close learning gaps, to ensure Least Restrictive Environments (LRE) for all students, and to most effectively use school resources. In many schools in the district, co-teaching practices, is a method of inclusive education, and is proving to be beneficial to all students. Moving forward and looking toward the future, we will continue to evaluate each student’s plan to ensure an educational environment that will increase student learning and increase understanding of the goals of special services.
Additionally, the Futures report suggests the importance of improving department collaboration and communication as well as establishing district-wide protocols to create more uniformity, collegiality, and the sharing of best teaching and educational practices. While special services and related services personnel have met monthly this year, we have also had the opportunity to create new learning teams to build capacity, share knowledge, and provide opportunities for professional development. The Assistive Technology Committee, a collaborative between Special Services and the Technology Department, recently held their first meeting. The focus of this team will be first and foremost, to ensure identified students have access to the technology they need to access their education as outlined in their Individual Educational Plans, but additionally the team with a representative from each building will take inventory of current materials, ensure and build teacher capacity to support students and their technological needs, and continue to explore new technologies to allow staff to support all students in a variety of ways in all classrooms. Another committee that has been formed that is focused on using a train-the trainer model, recommended by the report, is the Autism Consortium who just this year reinvented itself and is now called PACT. This team is working to build capacity around utilizing strategies and interventions to improve learning for students’ with autism, but also for students who may present with profiles similar to autism or for student who share common learning difficulties. Using the model of training-the-trainer, PACT is currently designing a series of workshops for staff members, paraprofessional included, that will increase staff knowledge and their ability to work with students who present with a variety of behavioral and academic learning needs.
Furthermore, the goal of the Special Services Department is to continually and creatively find ways to better support our students in their district and community and increase learning for all. The Futures report suggests that Stonington’s reliance on out-of-district placements is not excessive, in fact, is average. It also discusses the fact that at times students may be over supported. This year, the Special Services Department has looked closely at how we can better program for student support our students to increase student achievement and success, here in the Stonington schools and after they leave school. Our department is working to reallocate resources to create learning environments both in our schools and in our community where students can gain meaningful, authentic learning experiences. Staff is working to create supports for students to meet their needs here in Stonington instead of pursuing expensive, not always as beneficial outplacements. We have some very exciting ventures in the works and look forward to watching them grow and benefit our students, our schools, and our community in the years to come.
Should you be interested in reading the Futures Report in its’ entirety, please find it located on our website under the Special Education section.