Special ed to offer new options

Director of special education services Julie Umar gave an update on the standing of the special education department at the Whitehall Board of Education’s April meeting, outlining what’s in store going forward, some changes being made and some of the recent obstacles the department has had.

Umar presented some new options for students to the board.

Umar told the board about the different program opportunities within the schools to help students. The school district currently has three self-contained classrooms, one for kindergarten through third grade, fourth to sixth grade and then a secondary level where students are able to work on work and life skills.

“We use the DCT model which is the Direct Consultant model at the elementary and junior high level,” she said. “This is where a general education teacher provides content and a special education teacher provides any accommodations and modifications to the special education students.”

Umar said there is also a resource room offered to special education students where they are able to provide more services to students. The district is also offering special placement or students to make sure they stay on top of their work and are understanding the content.

“When a student’s needs are not being met in the district, we start looking at BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) placement,” she said. “Right in the beginning of the school year we had 13 students that attended a BOCES program. Now we have 17.”

A positive of the BOCES program in the Whitehall school district is getting to the root of what a student needs to succeed in the classroom.

“The BOCES program offers more therapeutic support for some students and really meets some of the students’ needs that we can’t necessarily meet in the district,” she said.

If a student still struggles with understanding material while placed in the BOCES program, that is when the department starts looking into a private placement for the student. This will broaden the educational horizons a little more for the student. The program is more like a day-treatment program, Umar said.

“We currently have six students that are in private placement,” she said.

The last option the department offers is sending students to a neighboring district. There are currently three students who are attending school in another district, and one that is attending Whitehall from a different district.

“They are also small like us so it’s important to look at some of the programs that they have and some of the programs that we offer and see if we can go to each other’s schools and use each other’s programs,” she said.

Some of the changes the department has gone through this year are the social and emotional changes COVID has brought upon students. Umar discussed that there are behavioral concerns among the department.

“So, to address this concern we are definitely going to be looking at professional development for all of our teachers. How we can address some of these social and emotional needs of the students as well as some teaching strategies that are affective in the classroom,” she said.

Umar discussed that it is important for social and emotional needs of students to be met for academic success. For anybody, it is hard to focus if basic human needs aren’t being met.

“We’re going to continue to look at the other programs for students with more behavioral concerns but we’re also going to be promoting our self-contained program throughout Whitehall and see if neighboring districts want to send their students to our program,” she said.

Something the department will be introducing in the coming school year is a 15 to 1 program. The program will be implemented in the classroom where one special education teacher is providing instruction to a small group of students.

“It’s either going to be at the elementary level and really prioritizing standards and focusing on certain standards that are really important or at the regents level side and focusing on what skills they need to pass the regents exam,” she said.

Umar mentioned that this new program should increase the Whitehall graduation rate and there will not be an increase in staff members for this program to work.

“I’m really excited to see how this model rolls out. It’s been done in a couple of schools in the capital region with great success so I am hopeful that it will work as well here at Whitehall,” she said.