Special Education programs at the top of PUSD goals

The Prescott School District Governing Board Tuesday evening approved its goals for the 2009-10 school year aimed at benefiting all district students-general education and special education students.

While improving academic achievement continues as a district goal, the governing board is placing an emphasis on improving special education programs.

During its July 28-29 retreat, the board talked with parents of special needs children about special education.

Board Member Steve Campbell said the district should focus on teachers' specific professional development in relation to special education, which could be part of district-wide early dismissal on Wednesdays.

Superintendent Kevin Kapp said the Department of Education is monitoring the district this year and auditing all special education programs.

Kapp said the state is providing behavior training, autism training and training in the writing and implementation of individual education plans.

The superintendent said the district must take its special education training to the next level and that some of it would "have to be mandatory. Money needs to be spent, but it has to be money well spent."

During the second day of the retreat, Board Member Dee Navarro introduced parents Luann Tardibuono, Robin Frielich and Sherie Gifford. The parents are part of Developmental Education and Research (D.E.A.R.) that promotes lifetime success through special needs education.

"This past year, we have had a lot of special education problems. I am so impressed with these people," Navarro said. "They are part of a group of positive parents."

Tardibuono's son has Down syndrome. He has attended PUSD schools for three and a half years.

Tardibuono said special education is not a place, but a service. She agrees that the district's special education program is not perfect, "But we are all trying to make the best things happen."

Tardibuono said D.E.A.R. serves as an "advocate for efforts for any child with special needs."

Tardibuono said that following a series of special education focus groups in 2007, the parent group started to meet monthly and met monthly with the special education director.

Tardibuono encouraged the district to provide parent/teacher workshops and training sessions to ensure that parents and teachers "were at the same table. It is not a matter of 'us against them.' We are in this together,"

Frielich said she has worked hard "not to be adversarial, but to work together for what is best for my son."

Frielich said she adopted her son, "who was badly damaged in utero." He has attended PUSD since he started school. She said her son has benefited from the district's early intervention program.

"We (D.E.A.R.) want to be the parents that work together with the district. We have yet to file a lawsuit or due process. We want to make changes from within," Frielich said.

"I think that everything that happens for them (special needs students) in the classroom lifts up every other student. This is their gift to the district," Frielich said.

Instead of referring to non-special education classes as "regular" education, the D.E.A.R. parents use the phrase "general education." The word regular suggests that anything else is irregular.

Gifford said a fellow kindergarten parent recognized some behaviors in her daughter that special education programs could help.

Gifford said, "Teachers need to recognize that things that work for special education students will also work for general education students."

Gifford said parents would benefit if school officials would include special education items in their newsletters or on their websites. Parents, she said, would also like a more direct link to the governing board.

"Building relationships is the smart way to go. Relationships equal trust and trust equals support," Gifford said.

The governing board's special education program goal is to develop transitional planning at all grade levels; develop district-wide assessment of current programming and needs; and prepare for state monitoring.