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Sat, Dec. 05

Improvement seen within school’s special education program, claims expert<br>

Burns has served as a special education consultant for the WUSD since the spring of 2003. At that time, special education records were tracked manually. Throughout the years, each special education teacher maintained the records in a different way, which proved to be problematic, Burns said.

The special education program is now included in a server-based computer system. Paperwork that had once been manually prepared, such as Individual Education Plans, can now be completed on a computer. Burns said the use of this system would assist in assuring the special education program files are more complete and accessible to staff.

During the 2003-2004 school year, 48 random files were pulled and audited for the purposes of self-monitoring. It was discovered that 36 of the 48 files were not in compliance under state law.

“We never kept non-compliance a secret. It’s time to squelch the rumor mill of ‘we don’t know what we are doing,’” Burns said.

The files that were not in compliance were not a surprise since WUSD Special Education Director Joan Hughes was aware of the non-compliance issues and was working towards solving the problem, said Burns.

Most of the non-compliance stemmed from what Burns labeled as “paperwork issues.” To remedy the situation, special education staff members had IEP work meetings to help catch up.

Maintaining IEP paperwork can be tedious, said Burns. Before an IEP is put into place, a staff member must draft a proposed IEP, meet and present the IEP to parents, write additional comments on the IEP, have a parent sign a cover sheet, complete the IEP and return the completed IEP to parents. If any of these steps are missed, the IEP is incomplete and then becomes non-compliant.

With the addition of the server-based computer system and new computer laptops that were issued to special education staff, staff members with access can go online and see if an IEP has been completed.

“The accomplishments you have made are phenomenal. You are in great shape,” Burns told the board.

Burns added that a “mechanism” is now in place and will continue to improve under the direction of WUSD Superintendent Susan Scherz.

Scherz admitted the positive changes did not begin to materialize until November during a training session.

“We weren’t all on the same pages,” Scherz said. “In November, we were reaching a common understanding of who needs to do what.”

Burns attributed past delays in progress not only to Hughes’ absences due to illness, but also the fact that Hughes “wears many hats.” Burns pointed out that not only is Hughes special education director, she also works with No Child Left Behind, visits both school campuses frequently, writes grants, is the district’s media specialist, coordinates AIMS Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards A test for special education, works with the school outreach coordinator under the 21st Century Learning Grant and is responsible for census and data verification.

“I am in the buildings quite often communicating special education concerns with the principals,” Hughes said.

While Hughes is not certified in special education, she can still serve in that capacity since there are no laws or statutes requiring that the person in that position be certified.

“We are home growing our special ed director,” Scherz said.

Scherz stated that Hughes has received special education administrative training that is offered at Northern Arizona University and the University of Phoenix.

“She completed that program and continues to seek training opportunities,” Scherz said.

Scherz added that the district does not have the financial resources to obtain a certified special education director.

“With the training she has received, Joan (Hughes) can go to another district and command top dollar,” Scherz said.

“While it caused murmuring in the ranks, something good came out of her (Hughes) absence. The principals learned more about special education after assuming her role,” Burns said.

This school year, the special education department moved from the Williams Elementary-Middle School to the former vocational education building located near the district office on South Ninth Street. While moving into the building has been beneficial in that the special education department is now clearly separated from both school campuses, Burns says the building is not appropriate.

“There is a strong smell of solvents. The building needs to come down,” Burns said. “After two hours in that building, I have a blinding headache.”

Burns added that the solvent smell has made her so ill she has vomited on her way home to Flagstaff.

“We need to do something about this right away. We can’t have employees in that building. This is ridiculous,” said Ron Stilwell, board member.

Scherz noted that the former vocational education building would be removed within five years since it was replaced with a new building last year. The district has five years from the time of completion of a new building to remove the old building. The Facilities Committee will address issues surrounding the removal of the building.

Out of a total district enrollment of 750 students, 120 of those — or 16 percent of the total enrollment — have been identified as students requiring special education services. Albert “Bud” Parenteau Sr., board member, asked why that number is so high.

“Williams is not over-identifying kids. It’s a phenomenon. Parents are looking for more personal service,” Burns said.

Camp Verde and Ash Fork also has a high number of special education students, she said. At 16 percent, Williams is higher than the state average of 10 percent.

The board will conduct a work session today at 5:30 p.m. at the Williams High School library, 440 S. Seventh St. Cindy Daniels, district external facilitator will discuss the progress and current status of school improvement in the district and will submit recommendations for the 2005-2006 school year.

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