A preliminary report on the status and goals of the Jim Thorpe School District Special Education Program was presented to the Jim Thorpe School Board at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday. The report was presented by Vaughn Shappell, Director of Special Education Services, Katherine Doll and Shelly Hartman, both teachers in the district.
The report is part of a larger study on special education compiled by a committee of special education and other teachers. The focus of the study was on increasing the quality of special education assessments and furthering a narrative of the good work done by the Special Education Department.
As Ms. Doll and Ms. Hartman noted, the strengths of the program were the willingness and dedication of the district's teachers to fostering "achievement beyond academics, with a focus on teaching social skills and goal planning." Another strength was the training teachers have received about methods of integrating special needs children into regular classroom settings. The Jim Thorpe School District currently has 92 special needs children participating in the normal curriculum.
Integration requires educating teachers and administrators on how to better create student assessments. Good assessments routinely combine data analysis of PSSA test scores, benchmarking metrics and teacher observation.
The goal of the Special Education Department is to maximize the district's integration policy. Questions were raised at the meeting about how this approach would affect the quality of the higher achieving student's education.
Shapell described the policy as one, which aims to create more individualized methods for each student, with a focus on aiming at the 'highest levels' for all students. In order to do this, teachers have to be trained in how to provide multiple learning methods in the classroom. This process is called differential instruction and is geared around making teachers more flexible in how they present the same information to different students.
The integrated approach aims to better everyone, students and teachers included, said Shappell. "Special Education is everyone's business."