2007-11-15 / Front Page

School special education staff welcomes parents to open house

By Michaela Kennedy

Melrose Avenue School was the venue Tuesday evening for the second annual open house presented by the Jamestown Special Education Local Advisory Committee. Resource teachers, case managers and therapists met with parents for presentations and conversations about the educational support system.

At the Nov. 13 meeting, SELAC co-chairwoman Donna Perry introduced new staff members and encouraged questions. "This is really the only time during the year when the parents can get a one-onone meeting with all of the staff," she said. The open house also provided a platform for the administration to communicate state and federal regulation changes that affect the district, such as school aid.

Perry stressed vigilance where legislation was concerned. "We need to be aware of what's happening at the state level. All the good intentions don't mean anything if there are no dollars," she added.

Robert Fricklas, the new director of Pupil Services and Special Education, noted that the open house was an important key for parents as they navigate the special education process. He also stressed the need for awareness of events happening statewide that would directly affect local school programs. He mentioned two public hearings slated to review the proposed regulation changes from the Rhode Island Board of Regents. New regulations may mean larger class sizes and less financial support. One of the hearings is scheduled for Dec. 3, at 6 p.m., at South Kingstown High School. "Comments are critical to change the Regents' mind," Fricklas said.

Perry urged public input at the hearing, and noted that SELAC members were encouraged to attend.

Fricklas also noted that, starting in the 2007-2008 school year, all educational agencies must provide data on state performance assessments. The schools must report on nine target areas, and focus on solving weaknesses in any areas that fall short of meeting the state standards. Some of the points the administration are required to address are parent involvement, transition to high school, and general supervision.

Ray Marcotte, the newly-appointed psychologist for the district, said that after only six weeks on the job, his job is "still being refined." He praised the close relationship between teachers and parents on the island, and commented on the strength of the team approach used by the educational and support staff. "Decisions are not left up to one person," he said.

Terry Kahn, speech pathologist for the Jamestown schools, outlined speech and language therapy used to help students overcome communication disorders. Teacher oriented tasks, small groups in classrooms and collaborations with the pathologist and occupational therapist were some of the approaches explained by Kahn. "I use the hybrid method most," she noted, referring to a technique of modifying a student's environment to elicit positive responses.

Kahn emphasized that communication between home and school was important. Students have a folder that goes back and forth between the school and parents, informing them of progress and problems. "Homework is included in the folders," she added.

Occupational therapist Sharon McNeil also presented a description of her work with people and children "to help them be as independent as possible." She offers support in academic and non-academic areas, with a focus on simple skills. "We touch every aspect of a child's life," she noted. "Sometimes because of a disability or injury, they need a little extra help." McNeil also teaches visual motor skills that facilitate other skills such as writing and computer use.

When asked if a general school policy dictated a uniform time frame for therapy, Kahn responded that guidelines from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association were followed. McNeil added that the American Occupater, tional Therapy Association also had guidelines followed by the school district.

Other introductions were given by case managers and resource teachers from both schools. After the presentations, parents met with staff members individually to address other questions and concerns.

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