Tuesday June 25, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A new report released Monday looking at special education in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union identifies areas of both commendation and concern.

The most pressing findings in the report include four "triangulated areas for improvement" that the SVSU must respond to in a written improvement plan.

The Focused Monitoring Report details findings from an on-site review during the first full week of February and is available in its entirety on the Vermont Agency of Education’s website at http://education.vermont.gov.

The monitoring team was led by Ernest Wheeler, a state special education consultant, with seven other team members and AOE consultants.

The purpose of the report is to assess compliance with federal and state special education law and regulations and also address critical performance areas, placing the focus on "results versus process."

In a guest column Monday, Assistant Superintendent Donna Leep said the report helps to clarify areas for improvement and offers specific technical assistance to address those points.

Some data is based on the most recently complete school year when the report was being compiled -- 2011-12 -- while other information is produced from classroom observations, staff and parent surveys, and on-site interviews during the visit this spring.


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A positive development in the report was a continually declining special education dropout rate.

Larger supervisory unions in the southern part of the state have historically had higher percentages of students eligible for special education, and this trend continues, although the number identified did decline a percentage point from Dec. 1, 2009, to Dec. 1, 2011.

State standardized testing in the form of the New England Common Assessment Program found special education students underperforming compared to their peers elsewhere in the state in reading and math at Mount Anthony Union Middle School, Bennington Elementary, Molly Stark, and Pownal Elementary. (Mount Anthony Union High School performed in line with the state average while North Bennington Graded School performed better than average.)

Areas in need of improvement

Areas of concern targeted for improvement include the need for a definitive administrative chain of command document, clear criteria for the entrance and exit of students in alternative programs, and better lines of communication between the central office, parents, and schools.

The report also lists concerns with hiring practices, the training of staff, and delivery of services in more restrictive placements. Supporting evidence included staff who reported little advance training on the disabilities of students they were assigned, reviews that found students in the most restrictive placements are served primarily by paraeducators, and staff being reassigned with little notice.

To be commended at the SVSU, the report tallies:

* Evidence of good team teaching models in general education classrooms at Mount Anthony Union,

* Professional learning communities in Pownal and Monument Elementary that support teachers, programs, and students,

* A significant and positive impact from positive behavioral supports,

* The development and implementation of before and after school programs, evidenced by high numbers of student participation,

* The use of technology to support student access and performance,

* Student support or success rooms to help at-risk students or defuse inappropriate behavior,

* Good educational support team procedures,

* And collaboration between early childhood staff and local Head Start and pre-K partners.

Queried at the Bennington School District’s meeting June 17, Superintendent Catherine McClure said after reviewing a draft she was confident the supervisory union and member schools could respond to the forthcoming report.

"We can accommodate the aspects in that report (that require action)," she said, given budgeted amounts for professional development and additional resources.

McClure was not available after the report’s release Monday.

In identifying more restrictive placements for special education students -- those who spend 40 percent or less of the school day in a general education setting -- the SVSU exceeds both the statewide average and similarly sized supervisory unions elsewhere in the state. However, that numbe r is a partial reflection of many district-operated alternative programs given a smaller percentage of students placed outside the supervisory union in a separate program or residential facility.

"Combining these two educational environment percentages together reveals that the gap between SVSU and similar sized districts is not as acute," the authors note.

The report also identified 22 issues of noncompliance with state or federal regulations, which the supervisory union received written notice of and must correct no later than one year from the date of notification (March 11).

The report can be located on the Agency of Education’s website by searching for "focused monitoring" in the top right-hand search field.

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