Edmonds School District makes changes to delivery of special education services

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By Eileen Kelliher

On April 16, the Edmonds School Board met and learned from an amendment to the agenda that changes are afoot in the delivery of special education in the district.

Learning Support staffer Tim Garberich explained to the board that to more efficiently use special education funds, the district chose to close Edmonds Elementary School’s primary intensive support classroom next year, which will displace three students.  Also, the secondary intensive support classroom in Seaview Elementary will close, which will move seven students to different locations, In the subsequent year, the remaining intensive support classrooms will come together in the same school so that students would have continuity moving from primary to secondary grades.

Gaberich went on to explain that compare to other school districts, Edmonds has a higher rate of keeping students in these self-contained classrooms as opposed to mainstreaming them into general education classrooms. After long discussions with principals and staff, administrators were moving to come into greater alignment with the state norm.

An Edmonds Elementary parent spoke to voice her concern over the closing. Her middle child, who has Down’s Syndrome, will have to go to a different school. The family had moved their other two children from a private school to attend Edmonds with their sibling.

Superintendent Nick Brossoit suggested that in the future, special education parents should be better informed of plans affecting their child’s education. He explained that while he was not questioning the wisdom of the change, it felt abrupt from a parent’s point of view. While Garberich explained that staff had worked to inform the Special Education Parent Teacher’s Association PTA, elementary parents were not well-represented in that group. He mentioned that as a result of this experience, staff was planning to meet once a year with all parents of special education students to keep them apprised of future plans. Brossoit apologized directly to the board for “not informing them ahead of time of this change and for not involving parents as much as they should have.”

The following items were also addressed during the evening:

Garberich, Katy Wysocki and Tara Slinn joined Assistant Superintendent of Student Learning Tony Byrd to cover how the district supports students who struggle with math. This was in response to queries by board members Susan Phillips and Diane White.  The three district employees stated that this year’s Math Expressions adoption, which includes books, manipulatives and an online component, has been beneficial to both the general student population and special education students. Specifically, it is helpful that across the district, all teachers are using the same curriculum and there is a smooth progression through the grade levels.  Additionally, the district’s new summer tutoring program, math intervention classes, investment in full-day Kindergarten, the new teacher evaluation system and adoption of the Common Core Curriculum all are elements that work in favor of struggling math students. Byrd informed the board that at Brossoit’s suggestion, a Math Summit of teacher leaders and administrators was being convened, and that board members would be welcome.

Brossoit pointed out that unlike reading, which is an organic subject to teach, math is a spiraling curriculum and builds on itself.  Also, he cited mobility as being a factor that the district did not control but which affected math testing outcomes and student’s ability to learn. For example, he said, there is a classroom in Spruce Elementary where only three students of 30 have been there since the fall; all the others are new to the school. In the Edmonds School District, he said, from 3rd grade to 10th grade one half of the students have come and gone, which is the best argument for Common Core Curriculum for the state. Students who have been with the district the whole time have around a 10-percent better result on tests.

Board member Phillips pointed out that job opportunities focus around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. And yet, she said, colleges are receiving students not well-prepared in math. If the district’s budget is larger next year, she would like to see more investment in math.  Board member White would like to “catch up” kids who only multiply on their fingers rather than push them along in the system.

Byrd also reported on the district’s Highly Capable Program, with the help of seven students from elementary, middle school and high school. Among the statements from the children:

– They enjoyed the fast-paced environment

– The classes instill a great academic work ethic

– They were bored in class until they got into the program

– It puts them one step ahead of their peers when applying for college

– It teaches them time management skills

Byrd pointed out that while highly capable students have one of the highest dropout rates nationwide, the Edmonds School District is known statewide for its support of these students.

Executive Director of Business and Operations Stewart Mhyre put before the board several proposed capital projects that would draw on various funds that had not yet been depleted, including the 2006 bond, state matching grants, local funds, the 2004 levy, and the 2008 technology and capital projects levy.  Projects that Capital Projects Director Ed Peters thinks the district needs to prioritize include: marketing properties that the district is trying to sell, developing the for-sale properties to make them more desirable (such as traffic studies and a massing design), demolishing (including asbestos removal) Melody Hill, improving the Mountlake Terrace theater sound system so that it could be rented out for revenue, replacing Edmonds Elementary siding and railings and repairing masonry, and fixing the Chase Lake Elementary gutter system.

Additionally, Mhyre recommended that the district change to mailing home a post card (in English and Spanish, with other language translation available) to get the word out on the free and reduced lunch application process.  Currently 82 percent of the 13,000 flyers mailed are recycled or thrown away. The district could still have hard copies available in school and district offices for guardians. It would also use its website and phone contact information to get out details.

Mhyre and Brossoit later gave the board an estimate on how much of a budget increase to look for from the state Legislature, which is addressing the lawsuit that requires Washington state to honor its fiduciary obligation to students. Between $14 million and $18.3 million is their conservative assumption. District administration will be meeting to develop some tentative plans for spending the funds.

Assistant Superintendent Patrick Murphy updated the board on a slight change in the physical education graduation requirement that would have students receive one half of their one-and-a-half credits from a district P.E. class. And if they take the other full credit off campus, they need to complete a classroom-based assessment in high school in addition to the logs that they have traditionally completed. Also, if there is a coach or teacher involved in their off-campus P.E. experience, they will be required to give feedback. Now there is one form used by all the high schools and a consistent policy.

The board celebrated the 50 or so Move! instructors that conduct either before- or after-school exercise and activity programs for as many as 50 students at 16 district elementary schools. Program coordinators Jenni McCloughan and Jennie Hershey nominated the group for their energy and enthusiasm and the time devoted to providing students with fun exercise. “Countless e-mails from parents” were received praising the instructors, according to McCloughan. Teachers observed that students received a boost in self-esteem, that they went into class more focused after exercise and that they used recess time more positively

The board approved field trips including: Lynnwood High School’s DECA to Vancouver, BC, Edmonds-Woodway High School’s Football Team to Camp Brotherhood in Mount Vernon and Central University in Cle Elum, Madrona K-8 to Camp Casey, and Mountlake Terrace High School’s Boys Basketball program to Longview.

The board next meets on April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Educational Services Center, 20420 68th Ave. W.,  Lynnwood.

School board contributing writer Eileen Kelliher served as a parent volunteer while her three children went through Seaview Elementary, Meadowdale Middle School, and Edmonds-Woodway High School.  She works occasionally as a substitute classified employee for the Edmonds School District.

2 COMMENTS

  1. While it’s unfortunate that it sounds like families weren’t notified as well as they could have been, as a parent who has a child that will soon be receiving these services I’m glad to see the District is moving more towards mainstreaming.

  2. I only hope that they they don’t move towards broad brush mainstreaming- while having special ed kids with their neurotypical peers can be a positive thing, not all children can or should be mainstreamed. The statement “moving to come into greater alignment with the state norm” makes me think the administration was thinking more about numbers on paper, than the children they are actually serving.

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