Addressing special education in West Jeff


(Posted Dec. 23, 2015)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

With nearly 14 percent of the student population identified as in need of special education services—not unlike counterparts across the state—teachers and staff at Jefferson Local Schools draw from many sources in meeting the needs of children.

According to Jennifer Merb, supervisor of Special Education Services, the 2015-16 school year began with 133 students in the program. As of the Dec. 14 school board meeting, the number increased by approximately 40 students.

“We have had so much mobility this year,” Merb said. “We had over 40 students come in since the beginning of the school year.

“We have high standards at all times, and we are teaching to all students. Everybody is held accountable for teaching all students. We have to provide intervention for all students performing below grade-level standards.”

School district psychologist Joe Galore said effective intervention must involve a child’s parents/guardian, in addition to obtaining accurate information as to where a student is academically compared to their grade level.

“We’re not just jumping through hoops,” continued Galore, who reported effective intervention has led to a reduction in the number of students in need of special education services. “We’re really trying to help students.

“Intervention is required and must be implemented for any struggling student…and measuring success is difficult. It’s more than just grades.”

In assessing students involved in intervention or special education, teachers and staff evaluate a child’s academic progress, determine if they are meeting grade level standards, are prepared for independence outside the classroom and where their needs are best met—in a general education classroom and/or a resource room.

Merb said educators have seen a big shift in services for students throughout the years.

“We’re raising the standards for students,” Merb remarked. “We’ve also seen a lot of decline in funding across the board in special education, but a large increase in needs.”

In discussing state funding for special education, Superintendent William Mullett reported the state has never fully funded the budget line item for special education.

“It has never, ever been 100 percent appropriated,” Mullett said. “That’s a failing on the part of our state legislators.”

In other action, board member Jerry Doran reported on the end of a lengthy process of overhauling personnel evaluation/salary procedures in connection with the approval of administrative salaries for 2015-16 for principals, department coordinators and supervisors.

“This has been a pretty long process,” Doran said. “We set out to establish special criteria. We took every job position and compared it to other districts. Right now, we just have to go back and adjust a couple.

“Hopefully, next year we’ll get it done (yearly salary adjustments) in a more timely manner. I felt comfortable with what we’re doing. Overall, it was a good process.”

Board President David Harper said that because most of the board is well acquainted with the business world, setting and measuring goals is a familiar process. He added, the district now has a tool and baseline to work with now and in the future.

“Hopefully, it will be a rewarding tool,” he said. “It’s been almost four and a half years since we first looked at it.”

A board committee planned to meet on Dec. 15 to interview candidates for an open board position and will hold a special meeting within the next two weeks to make the appointment. Harper said he expects to take action “sometime between Christmas and New Year,” possibly Dec. 29.

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