Changes underway in LOSD Student Services
The team of district administrators responsible for tackling issues identified in the recent Special Services Evaluation presented a comprehensive update to the school board Monday about the process of improving the Student Services department.
The Special Services Evaluation Action plan was developed as a response to issues identified in a report commissioned in October 2018. The evaluation was formerly known as the Special Education Audit, but was renamed to the "Student Services Evaluation" in September by Superintendent Lora de la Cruz.
"Words matter," de la Cruz said at the time. "It's more of a program review. We're going to be referring to it that way, with its proper title, moving forward."
The evaluation highlighted areas in which the district was failing to support all students. "LOSD has made great efforts to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion and to close achievement gaps," it read. "We have also noted that for much of this work, there has not been a focus on how special education services should be involved ... There are notable efforts to address students' attendance, behavior, and course performance — all factors that affect academic success — and still, the gap between students with disabilities and students without disabilities exists."
When de la Cruz took control of the district, she made it a point to take action on the recommendations made in the evaluation. The district's Special Services Department was renamed to the Student Services Department, two new administrators were hired — Assistant Directors of Student Services Linda Moon and Jim Sanders — and de la Cruz directed administrators to begin the process of developing an action plan to address gaps identified in the report.
At Monday's meeting, Moon and Sanders joined Director of Student Services Patrick Tomblin, Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Schiele, Director of Human Resources Donna Atherton, Director of Equity David Salerno Owens, Director of Secondary Programs Lou Bailey and Director of Elementary Programs Frank Luzaich to update the board on their progress.
Bailey said that the team identified the concept of "collective responsibility" as essential to the success of the department, and a shared understanding of the phrase was developed. "Collective responsibility is a shared belief in accountability that ensures high levels of learning and inclusion for each and every child," said Bailey. Essentially, every adult in the district is responsible for the success of each student in the district.
There are ongoing meetings being held with stakeholders (parents, teachers, principals and more) where short- and long-term goals are being developed, as well as timelines and cost for each, according to Bailey.
Some of the long-term actions include creating effective tracking and supports for students with disabilities; determining the necessary steps to improve proficiency of students with disabilities, especially in regards to boys; and creating a mechanism that better supports chronic absenteeism of students with disabilities, including those who are Hispanic and/or classified with an emotional disturbance and more.
An Inclusion Committee was also recently established to oversee the work, Salerno Owens told the board. The committee held its first meeting Oct. 9, and a second meeting is scheduled for Oct. 30 to discuss the the working definition
of inclusion and data on the current status of student services.
Schiele updated the board about ongoing professional development to support all types of learners. "We have accomplished many things in the area of professional development. For the first time in my 16 years that I've been (in the district), we are making sure that every staff member is up to par with some key learnings," she said. "Those key learnings are: attention, working memory skills, language and communication skills, emotion and self regulation, social and emotional thinking skills, hidden disabilities and collective responsibility."
Schiele said that many of the district's educational assistants will receive training on these skills next week, in addition to the training of 25 staff members on the Ortan-Gillingham approach — a structured, multi-sensory, sequential, diagnostic and prescriptive way to teach literacy when reading, writing and spelling does not come easily to individuals, such as those with dyslexia.
The Student Services department will also release a survey soon to gauge what types of courses people would like to see offered for nontraditional learners. Schiele said that the evaluation has "done so much" for the district. "It's really made us realize how important and valuable the parent information is," she said.
Salerno Owens said that the team will take the survey results into consideration along with ongoing meetings and community outreach. "Our goal is to present a recommendation in May," he said. "(The recommendations) would go into effect in the next school year."
School board members expressed their gratitude to the team for the amount of work they have taken on. "This is so impressive; it's a huge body of work," said Kirsten Aird. "I don't see this ending anytime soon. It's too big, and it's too important to get right."
Board chair Rob Wagner echoed her sentiments. "The fact that you have this team shows how much we, at a district level, value the work that is coming," he said.
To view the full presentation about the Student Services Action Plan, visit www.losdschools.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=1556 and click on the video from Oct. 21. The presentation begins one hour
and 22 minutes into the meeting.
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