Director of Student Services Jerry Nicholson shared information on the special education and student services programs offered in the District at the Board of Education regular meeting on Monday, March 12.
He was joined by assistant director Cindy Malcheski and parent volunteers Kristin Voss and Liza Hellenbrand.
Nicholson noted when he started in the District about seven years ago the relationship with parent groups wasn't what it should have been.
"It wasn't as positive as it should be, it wasn't as open. We had a lot of work to do,'' he said. "We spent time on a journey and I'm excited about where we are now.''
Voss said her family moved to the District when her daughter was in second grade and she is now
a sophomore. She said families with special education students are very pleased with the academics in the District but wished for more socially and emotionally.
Hellenbrand and Voss are key members of SPARK, formerly called MAGIC, which is a parent-led group that provides support, education, and a social outlet for parents of a child or children with special needs. The organization aims to foster positive relationships among families, the District, and the larger community.
It meets monthly on Wednesday nights.
Voss has been particularly happy with the increased turnout this year and attributed to the District's efforts to promote the organization. Families recently heard a presentation about special education but also had an opportunity to meet staff at all three levels.
"The District buy-in has helped us and helped families get involved,'' Voss said.
Hellenbrand and Voss are also now formally District Family Engagement Liaisons for MCPASD. The plan is that they will work with each school to building family engagement plans with a goal to get families more involved and provide more training to families and staff.
They are also working to build an out-of-school program that will help students identify a micro-business they can develop. Students will research, develop, promote and sell while learning social and soft skills that will prepare them for adult life, Voss said.
"It's been great working with the District,'' Voss said. "We'll see you around. If you don't remember those names, you'll at least say, 'You are those moms.' We'll keep working together.''
Malcheski and Nicholson then reviewed data. They noted the District continues to have a disproportionate number of students of color identified as needing special education services. They believe gains have been made. Nicholson wants to make sure evaluations are culturally responsive to make sure students of color are being properly identified.
Nicholson said the District has improved at identifying students who shouldn't be in special education..
It's not about adding or taking away a service for a student,'' he said. "It's about doing what is best for them.''
"We are doing proactive things to bring these numbers down,'' Malcheski added.
They shared information about a special education advisory group that meets monthly. The group has spent a lot of time on PBIS Tier 2 training for the 15 percent of students who need it, trauma-sensitive care, professional development and special education software needs.
Nicholson also shared information on the District's threat assessment process, which he described as very thorough and noted multiple districts have requested it. There are links on the District website for students and families to report threats or instances of bullying. If a report is considered urgent, five administrators get a call no matter the time of day or night, he said.