The James Burd Elementary School administration has released its plan to address a state designation as an underperforming school for special education students.

Principal Dr. Scott Shapiro shared its 2019-20 school year plan with the Shippensburg Area School Board Monday. The plan will be monitored on a quarterly basis with benchmarks.

The Department of Education notified the district about its designation as “Additional Targeted Support and Improvement” (A-TSI), at the end of last year, due to a low percentage of special education, specific to third grade students scoring proficient or advanced on the PSSA exams in English language arts and mathematics over two years, 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The state noted chronic absenteeism as another red flag, based on the number of special education students who missed more than 10 percent of school days across the two school years.

A committee -- composed of two parents who have students with disabilities; a teacher from each grade level; two special education teachers; Sheri Woodall, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment; Peggy Crider, supervisor of special education; Bethany Bridges, assistant supervisor of special education; and Shapiro -- met over eight school days to devise the plan. Members of the team were present to support Shapiro during the presentation.

They conducted a needs assessment, which consisted of student surveys, parent surveys and quantitative data, like attendance, discipline and test scores, among other forms of assessment.

The committee came up with the common vision: “The James Burd family will work together to create a welcoming, inspiring and engaging environment, where all learners take pride in reaching their full potential.”

“We have students with learning deficits, we have students who have difficulty regulating their emotions, we have students who are in the life skills populations, but each student can grow and will grow and that is our mindset and that is why we developed this vision as a comprehensive team,” Shapiro said.

The team plans to use a collaborative approach to address attendance; a tiered approach to address students’ social-emotional, behavioral and academic needs; and plans to execute “meaningful, relevant, differentiated” professional development for staff.

One goal with the plan includes having 75 percent of special education students in attendance for at least 90 percent of school days. The team plans to address the issue of attendance by communicating with parents, and showing a “true invested interest” in their child when they are not in school, like by sending personalized postcards to the homes of students who have missed three consecutive days. Shapiro said there will also be time spent at open houses to address possible misbeliefs about attendance, as well as the organization of a mentorship program at the school.

Another one of the goals is having 23 percent of third grade special education students score proficient or advanced in ELA on the PSSAs, and making sure the number of discipline referrals does not exceed 80 total referrals per 100 students. Some students tend to have multiple referrals – this does not mean 80 different students.

The plan also addresses professional development.

“Our teachers really want to collaborate. That was a strength. They are asking for collaboration time,” he said. “And, we notice that there is a discrepancy between what they are asking for, and what they have been receiving specific to our regular education teachers and our special education teachers.”

Thus, one of the goals is building in at least 40 minutes per month for general education and special education teachers to collaborate together, as well as improve professional development to the point where 70 percent of teachers who attend these development sessions feels they are “meaningful, engaging and purposeful.”

Shapiro said they have a communication plan to keep the community up to date on the progress, and they would like to receive input from the community. The School Improvement Plan is available for public review on the school’s website.

President Dr. David Lovett said, “I want to thank Dr. Wilson, Sheri, Scott, and your team. Very good scientific approach to a problem. You got a lot of feedback it sounds like from students, parents, your own teachers in the building, I really like the way that you've broken it down into multi-tiered levels, what you are going to do, how you are going to work with faculty in the building, work with your community. I think it's a great plan, and it looks like it will be a big success.”

He asked if the feedback received from parents was useful. Shapiro said the most helpful input was the feedback asking for a more consistent form of communication. Parents noted they will have to subscribe to different means of communication as their child moves up to different grades.

He added, “All of our parents were very happy. They believe it's safe; they believe it's a very welcoming environment, so we didn't get any negative feedback in that survey.”

Shapiro also noted some information revealed in the student survey pertaining to some of the areas where they feel the least safe, which are unstructured environments, like the cafeteria. Shapiro said they plan to address these unstructured environments through lessons of social skills.   

Director Hunter Merideth asked for some background on trying to reduce the number of referrals and wanted to make sure staff aren't afraid to send a referral because it would impact the numbers set forth in their goal.

“By no means are we asking teachers to not refer students, but what we will be doing is we are hoping the social emotional lessons that we will be giving to students on a weekly basis in every classroom starting with a morning circle, and those sort of approaches, will help to decrease those numbers,” Shapiro said.

Vice President Susan Spicka said, “This looks like a lot of work, and it just is very impressive, so I thank all of you because on top of teaching your students all day and being a principal all day, you did all this.”

The plan will come before the school board June 24 for final approval, and the Capital Area Intermediate Unit will also need to approve the plan prior to June 30.

This A-TSI designation came as a result of the approval of Pennsylvania's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on Jan. 16, 2018, by the U.S. Department of Education. The 2018-19 school year is the first time these designations have been given.

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