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Lakota Board of Education Celebrates Successes in Special Education

Lakota Board of Education Celebrates Successes in Special Education

The Lakota Board of Education recently held a community conversation to gather feedback on positive experiences in special education during the past school year. The discussion focused on the strengths of the special education programming, parental involvement in educational decisions, insightful moments in the student’s educational journey, strategies for smooth transitions between schools and accommodations that improved the student’s educational experience. 

The evening was divided into two parts with the goal of participants engaging in a meaningful and productive conversation, finding common areas of interests and concerns. First, facilitator Kris Rojas assigned each group of participants a question to discuss. After bringing everyone together to share their thoughts, each group then chose a different topic to discuss.

Strengths of Special Education Programming

Parents praised the intervention specialists and the respect they show for both parents and students, as well as the supportive staff overall. The consistent support from the buildings result in improved self-confidence and self-advocacy. They also appreciate the ability to communicate directly with their student’s aide or attendant when possible.

During meetings, having the building administrator’s support is helpful, as it often provides a “new set of eyes” and ideas.

One parent noted the seamless facilitation between Help Me Grow (HMG), the county and the preschool. They appreciated the opportunity to voice their opinions on class placements and the visual updates provided by therapists and teachers on platforms like Seesaw.

The parent of a junior school student shared that having high expectations of the students allows the students “to rise and meet them.”

Parental Involvement in Educational Decisions

Parents valued the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and one-on-one interactions with teachers. They preferred direct communication, either in person or over the phone, and appreciated daily email updates. The idea of a preference sheet at the beginning of the year for parents to indicate their preferred communication method was suggested.

Insightful Moments in the Educational Journey

As parents shared their “aha” moments, they highlighted the significance of having the same intervention specialist for two years, which provides consistency and a deeper understanding of the child’s needs. They also expressed the need for more information about available options and class placements.

They emphasized the importance of parents being open to trying new strategies for their children and trusting their instincts when collaborating with the intervention team. Equally, the school team should value the parent’s expertise about strategies that work with their child. They also highlighted the need for parents and the intervention team to ask clarifying questions to ensure that everyone involved understands one another. One parent shared, “It’s about coming to terms that we can’t ‘fix’ our children. We need to move forward with purpose because our children are who they are.. (and) never say never.”

Consistency is key, not only in the expectations set in the IEP process across different schools but also in the technology used. Standardizing technology across schools can provide a stable learning environment for the child. Furthermore, sharing information between old and new teachers is also vital to maintain continuity in the student’s learning journey.

Lastly, parents identified Terri Doerr, Lakota’s parent mentor, as a significant support resource for families navigating the special education process. 

Strategies for Smooth Transitions Between Schools

Parents found early and frequent meetings with the new school helpful. They appreciated being able to meet with the administrative and intervention teams before the new school year begins, as well as visiting a new building while school is in session so students can get a better understanding of what a day might look like. One parent also praised their student’s teacher who visited their home during the summer so the student could meet them ahead of time.

Recommendations included posting class lists earlier and offering a smaller open house option to help lessen student anxiety and being able to keep the same intervention team from year to year as much as possible for consistency. Additionally, parents suggested that having the current teacher recommend a few students to be placed in the same classroom would help provide consistency.

Accommodations That Improved the Educational Experience

Parents highlighted the benefits of having adjusted due dates, including breaking large projects with one due date into several smaller projects with multiple due dates. They applauded the small group and pull-out time and teacher communication. 

Participants also praised the creative problem solving demonstrated by teachers, with one parent saying, “So many of our teachers love our students and are willing to meet them where they are and be creative about how best to help them.” 

Other accommodations mentioned include: having a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) visit the classroom to suggest changes; the benefit of transitioning from preschool to K-2 in the same building; and having consistent staff from year to year as much as possible. Parents also appreciated the availability of sensory rooms and kits at events, daily reports with specific details and accommodations during events like field day, which can be overwhelming for students.

Final Thoughts

The meeting concluded with Executive Director of Special Services Andrea Longworth saying, “We (the special services team) were over here brainstorming ideas because there was so much great information shared in tonight’s discussion. Communication, communication, communication. We heard you and we like the idea of a preferred communication survey - we were brainstorming on that. We appreciate your time tonight.”

The community conversation program is a testament to the Lakota Board of Education’s commitment to listening to its stakeholders to continually improve the educational experience for students and parents alike.

  • community conversations
  • special education