Taking a closer look at special ed
SUMMIT COUNTY – The stories of Summit special education students have kicked off almost every Summit School Board meeting in recent months.Parents have shared the successes, frustrations, enthusiasm and disappointments they and their children have encountered in the classroom.Some mothers have teared up as they have described their children flourishing in nurturing, supportive environments. Others have bemoaned foot-dragging and a lack of understanding about their children’s special needs.”We have many things that are working very well for people,” said superintendent Millie Hamner. “And we were sensing disappointment by some parents about our special education program. But we’re not afraid of addressing issues to become better as an organization.”Hamner convened the Special Education Vision Team during the summer to take a closer look at some parents’ complaints and how to better meet the needs of their students. The team, which consists of parents, administrators, teachers and specialists, has already spurred some changes.
“I had some fairly significant concerns about the way the system was progressing,” said Lyn Manton Krueger, a Vision Team member whose 17-year-old daughter Tessa has dyslexia.”It’s been an extreme roller coaster,” said Tessa, a Summit High School junior. “Through elementary school, I got some help. We had some testing done and took care of it. But in middle school, I didn’t qualify for (a special education program). Middle school was really hard – I got no help at all.”Krueger and her daughter are markedly more optimistic about this year, since the district implemented some immediate-term changes, at the suggestion of the Vision Team.Special education staff and counselors called each family with a special needs student by the first week of school. In Tessa’s case that included a meeting with her mother and all her new teachers to go over her needs, including extended time on tests and getting books on tape.”So far, so good. I don’t see it going anywhere but up from here. My teachers have been really helpful,” Tessa said.”At this point, Tessa feels fairly stable and well-advocated for – she has a voice,” Krueger said. “The students coming up underneath her also deserve to have their needs met, and I feel like the energy is being committed to doing that, which is awesome.”
Another quick change for this year spurred by the Vision Team is increased communication of special education students’ needs to general education teachers.”We have a renewed commitment that every teacher is aware of every student’s special learning needs – where to sit in the classroom, modified assignments, special learning equipment. We’re assuring that all teachers have the information about how students can best learn,” Hamner said.The team has identified longer-term projects, including making the problem-solving process – whom to contact in which situations – more clear to parents whose children are struggling.The district will also administer a parent survey to determine levels and areas of satisfaction among all parents with special needs students. District staff will look at similar surveys used by other districts in Colorado.”Any good organization, whether it’s a school district or a business, takes time to look at what we can improve upon and what we can celebrate,” said district special education coordinator Mary Kay Rivard. “I think we do have a lot to celebrate.”
Breckenridge parents Brad and Mary Dickerson agree. Their daughter Terra, who has cerebral palsy, is a fifth-grader at Breckenridge Elementary.”I think they’ve done a really good job,” Mary said. “The teachers and paraprofessionals have been phenomenal. They’re really open to us if we have something to say.”Terra has vision problems and navigates the school in a wheelchair, but school staff have remained determined to make her learning process as accessible as possible.”They had to make a lot of physical adaptations to the school,” Mary added. “They’re getting our text books in large print and they have a closed-circuit TV for her.”Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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