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Clark-Pleasant assessing special services partnership

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The leader of Clark-Pleasant schools wants to find the best way to help students who work with occupational, speech and physical therapists or psychologists as part of their school day.

Many of the therapists and psychologists who work with special education students at area schools come from Special Services, Johnson County, and school districts don’t oversee those workers directly.

Sometimes that can be difficult, such as when a principal has feedback or suggestions about how a therapist is working with students. That feedback has to go through the supervisors at special services, instead of directly to the employee, Clark-Pleasant Superintendent Patrick Spray said.

As the number of students in special education programs has grown in recent years, school officials at Clark-Pleasant, Greenwood and other school districts have been reviewing their partnerships with special services so they can be sure special education students are getting the kind of individual attention they need, and see if any money can be saved.

Locally, more than 3,500 of the county’s 25,000 students, or about 14 percent, are in special education programs. Many attend class in traditional classrooms and work periodically with therapists or psychologists, while some with more severe physical or mental disabilities complete their schoolwork in classrooms specifically for special education students.

Teachers at local schools lead the classes that the special education students attend each day, while special services provides the therapists, psychologists and other specialists that students from all six local public school districts can work with. School districts who work with special services pay a fee each year, and for Clark-Pleasant that amounts to about $2 million per year, Spray said.

Spray wants to know if Clark-Pleasant’s roughly 830 special education students would receive better, more focused attention if the school district hired therapists and psychologists. This year, the school district is paying a consultant to help answer that question by evaluating Clark-Pleasant’s special education classes and its partnership with special services.

“Student service, no matter who is delivering it, will not change or go down,” Spray said.

Clark-Pleasant officials started considering breaking away from special services after seeing that other school districts were considering doing the same, Spray said.

The consultant, Educational Services Company, is being paid $4,500 and will spend the next year talking with teachers, students and parents to see what concerns and questions they would have if the school district stopped working with special services. The company will also assess whether Clark-Pleasant could work more efficiently if it hired its own therapists and psychologist, Spray said.

Spray wants to know if the principal who has feedback from a therapist would have an easier time working with that person if they were employed by Clark-Pleasant schools.

“The accountability piece is something we want to look at as well,” Spray said.

Other school districts also have been evaluating how closely they work with children in special education programs, and are occasionally taking on some of the organization’s duties themselves.

Greenwood schools recently made former middle school principal Vicki Noblitt its special education director. Greenwood had been working with a special education director from special services, but transferring Noblitt enabled her to work exclusively with Greenwood’s roughly 540 special education families, assistant superintendent Rick Ahlgrim said.

Greenwood regularly reviews whether the school district should consider hiring its own full-time therapists and psychologist, or continue working with special services, Ahlgrim said. But special services continues to provide essential services for Greenwood, including guidance for teachers on the best ways to work with special education students in the classroom.

State law requires that special education students spend as much time in traditional classrooms as they can. The staff at special services answers questions to ensure schools are fully complying with the law, and can also help teachers who are learning how to best manage a classroom with traditional and special education students, Ahlgrim said.

“We are really concerned that we deliver to special education students and families the appropriate services, all the time,” Ahlgrim said.

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