Dr. Joe Schippa and Ed Stickles, director and assistant director of the Pupil Personnel Services department for Edgemont Schools, previewed the district’s plans for its special education program for the 2019-20 school year at the board of education meeting Feb. 4.
According to Schippa, the district will continue to shape its special education program using the Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, model.
This model includes the use of multiple teaching methods, the removal of learning barriers, providing equal opportunities to succeed, being open to flexibility, adjustments for each student’s strengths or needs and a focus on benefiting all students.
“Every student is unique and will therefore benefit from a flexible curriculum that provides him or her with the appropriate pathways for reaching learning goals as well as fair and accurate assessment,” Schippa said. Just as every student cannot be taught identically, every student cannot be graded the same way, Schippa explained.
“That doesn’t mean that you ditch standardized testing for every situation,” he said. “However, you have to have other opportunities to look at students from a different perspective and then design assessments to really pull out of students the best they can give you.”
A major part of the district’s special education program has been inclusivity and ingeneration for special education students.
In the past year, Edgemont Schools has ramped up its Integrated Co-Teaching program, pairing general education teachers with special education teachers to create an environment in which general students and special education students can coexist.
Co-teaching is just one of the multiple special services the district provides. Schippa and Stickles broke down those services from least restrictive to most restrictive.
Among the least restrictive services are related special services, which are provided when a student may simply require a speech/language specialist, counseling services or occupational therapy. Also among the least restrictive services are the placement of a consultant teacher — a teacher assigned to help in class with a specific student — and the resource room. Resource rooms provide a 5-to-1 student to teacher model in a small classroom for students who need more help with the curriculum.
Integrated co-teaching falls between least restrictive and most restrictive teaching methods.
The more restrictive services include a special classroom — a classroom with only one special education teacher and classified students — out-of-district placement and homebound/hospital-based instruction.
Schippa said the goal is to educate students in the least restrictive environment, but there are times when the more restrictive services are necessary.
Currently, the district employs 24 special education teachers, six school psychologists, five guidance counselors, five speech and language therapists, and five teaching assistants.
The district also contracts with special service providers such as occupational therapists and physical therapists. Schippa explained contracted providers are necessary in instances where the district doesn’t have a constant need to fill that position full time.
The district saw a small increase in special education students from 217 students in 2017-18 to 226 students this year. The district was steady at 217 students the previous three years.
Schippa said families in neighboring communities are discovering the work the Edgemont School District is doing in special education and looking to place their students in the district.
Schippa and Stickles explained there is also an increase in the amount of preschool students who are classified by the state’s Committee for Preschool Special Education as needing special education services and stay classified by the state’s Committee for Special Education as they enter the elementary schools.
Stickles said the district is currently working on referrals for preschool students and, as of Feb. 4, the district will have 15 special education students entering kindergarten at Greenville Elementary School and seven special education students entering Seely Place Elementary School.
He added there is no guarantee the students will remain classified as special education once they enter the elementary schools.
Stickles said he has heard from colleagues in Westchester County who say there is an increase in classified preschool students across the county.
He said many families, once they learn about the resources provided in Westchester County, are moving from New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut to enroll their children in Westchester schools.
The Pupil Personnel Services department has multiple goals they want to achieve in the following school year.
Those goals include better literacy programs for special education students, greater therapeutic support, a continuation of district-wide social and emotional learning goals, and an individualized grading system.
Although the special education overview occurred during budget season, the two administrators did not include expenses or specific budget requests in their presentation.
Superintendent Victoria Kniewel said the district would present an overview of the budget at the board of education meeting on Feb. 26 with more budget specifics presented at the school board meeting March 12.