Steamboat Springs The problems, and the positives, are now clear.
The results of an external audit of special education services in the Steamboat Springs School District, reviewed by the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night, give detail to problems -- including administrative oversight and "following through" on commitments -- that were felt by some local parents before the audit but had no definitive source.
"I think we came into this audit knowing there were issues," said Robin Tschider, director of special education for the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which works with the school district to provide special education in Steamboat schools. "This report is not so much surprising, as it is very specific."
The audit took place March 30 and 31. Conducted by four special education experts, the process consisted of "focus group" discussions, school visits and surveys from more than 100 people including teachers, parents and administrators. In comparing Steamboat's special education services to those offered in Gunnison and Summit County -- school districts chosen for having comparable size and socioeconomic statistics to Steamboat -- the audit resulted in several general findings, including:
- As of December 2004, Steamboat identified 13.8 percent of its students as needing special education, compared with a state average of 10.8 percent, 8.8 percent in Summit County and 7.1 percent in Gunnison.
- Of its 267 students in special education, Steamboat includes 82.3 percent of them in a general education classroom for the majority of the school day, compared with a state average of 25 percent, 48 percent in Gunnison and 39 percent in Summit County.
- Steamboat and BOCES have a higher-than-average number of staff that are not fully qualified -- many have Temporary Teacher Eligibility Status.
Despite the lack of qualifications, the audit report lists a special education staff that is "generally well-trained, knowledgeable, available and passionate" as one of Steamboat's strengths.
"That (lack) doesn't mean they don't have good skills, it doesn't mean they're not knowledgeable, it just means they're not licensed," said Jane Toothaker, BOCES executive director, citing eligibility requirements that can take up to three years to earn and that all unlicensed staff are working toward.
Other strengths listed by the audit report are parent participation and involvement, staff development and special education programs, which include the district's "inclusion" policy responsible for the 82 percent classroom-integration rating, one of the highest in the state.
Concerns listed by the report include administrative oversight and the relationship between BOCES and the school district, which the report states is "ambiguous and suffers from a lack of clarity."
"The problem generally stems from which entity is responsible for specific services for students and is exacerbated by a lack of ownership over all services," the report states.
Stemming from the ambiguous relationship is an identified "lack of follow-through" to commitments at the individual student and districtwide levels, the report states.
On Monday night, Toothaker and Steamboat Superintendent Donna Howell said those two problems -- the administrative relationship and lack of follow-through -- need to be addressed before further problems identified by the report, such as staffing ratios and a heavy reliance on paraprofessionals, can be looked at.
"We would like to see a facilitator hired to create an action plan around this report," Toothaker said.
School Board members Denise Connelly and Tom Miller-Freutel suggested comparing Steamboat's special education services to other, higher-performing school districts -- including some outside of Colorado.
"What we should be looking for is: 'What state is No. 1?'" board President Miller-Freutel said.
The auditors were Cheryl Johnson and Melinda Graham, senior consultants in the special needs field with the Colorado Department of Education; Troy Lange, special education director for Colorado Mountain BOCES; and Vicki Hubbard, special education and health services director for the Sherman Independent School District in Dallas.
Howell said she will move forward with hiring a facilitator to create an "action plan" for how to address the problems identified by the audit.
The School Board will further discuss the audit report, which members received Monday and did not have time to fully review, at its next meeting, May 15.
-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail email@example.com
Parent workshop to discuss accommodations and modifications to curriculum for children with learning difficulties, hosted by Northwest Colorado BOCES and PEAK Parent Center of Colorado SpringsWhen:
6:30 to 9 p.m. today, light dinner at 6 p.m.Where:
The Northwest Colorado BOCES Conference Room, on the north end of the George P. Sauer Human Services Center, 325 Seventh St.Call:
For reservations, call PEAK Parent Center at (800) 284-0251.
Apples appreciatedToday is Teacher Appreciation Day.Remember to show your support for teachers and staff at Routt County schools.