After five months of work the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Special Education Collaborative Working Group presented its final recommendations to the School Board for their review.The 18-member Working Group was made up of Special Education parents, District staff, and community members. The recommendations presented at the April 23 School Board meeting were broken down into goals with specific suggestions to reach each of them.Suggestions to create a culture of inclusion and integration included revising the District’s policy in this area, hiring an Integration Director, and evaluating school site principals in their job performance evaluations on their success in promoting integration. Some of the recommendations to recruit, retain, and train excellent Special Education staff were to expedite the hiring process, strengthen recruitment efforts, conduct compensation surveys, maximize internships and volunteer opportunities, and cross-train Special and General Education Staff.Recommendations were also made on how to improve the District’s IEP (Individual Education Program) process. An IEP is used to develop a curriculum tailored to the needs of a Special Education student based on their educational goals. The suggestions included creating an IEP parent packet, conducting annual IEP training for both Special and General Education Staff, hiring a Special Needs Liaison, and offering forums and speakers series on IEPs and related subjects.In order to ensure equitable access, the Working Group suggested making sure that all Special Education materials are available in Spanish, having translators and Bilingual Community Liaisons assist Special Education parents with the IEP process, and recruiting to increase diversity of parent groups that deal with Special Education. Suggestions were also made about improving District communication systems and websites. They were to evaluate a new e-mail system, ensure that the new student information system addresses the needs of Special Education students, and hire a Communications Specialist.Another goal addressed by the Working Group was strengthening the process of early identification, assessment, and intervention. To achieve this, they recommended establishing a formal policy of pro-active early identification, developing a district-wide Response to Intervention program and publicizing an intervention contact list of District staff members and other resources for parents.Lastly, the Working Group suggested ways to continuously improve programs and instruction. They would like the District to convene a Special Education Programs Task Force that would inventory and analyze all District programs, develop program development processes and procedures, and invest cost-effective programs.After the presentation School Board member Oscar De la Torre noted that these recommended changes were a “blueprint to do the best for our children and the real challenge will be their implementation.”Superintendent Tim Cuneo explained that goals for inclusion/integration, the IEP process, and program/instruction improvement would be the goals that receive the initial emphasis when the District begins implementing the recommendations. We will be bringing back to the Board a plan to show you what we will address, the budgetary implications, the timelines and the checkpoints for tracking purposes. He concluded his comments by stating, “I assure this isn’t going to sit on a shelf. This will be a very important part of our planning going forward.” The Working Group will reconvene if requested by the Superintendent to assess the progress with their suggestions. There is also a possibility that some of the group members may assist with the implementation process.
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