New VUSD service model assists SPED students

(Rigo Moran)

VUSD shares update on new middle school service model; involves implementation of two credentialed teachers for each gen ed class to assist students needing additional help

VISALIA – In hopes of ensuring every student has the ability to learn and grow as much as possible, Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) recently piloted a new way of catering to students with special needs, while also providing an extra resource to their classmates.

During VUSD’s Nov. 14 public board meeting, the district’s assistant superintendent of Educational Services, Andy Di Meo, shared an update on a recently updated service model. This new system provides core education teachers at all middle schools with a partner who can help guide and assist the special education (SPED) students.

“What we do is, we try to have a grouping of (SPED) students in each of our core subjects, (being) math and English,” Di Meo said. “That way, when I’ve got two teachers in there, all of those kids are benefiting from that additional instruction.”

While both teachers will have the credentials to teach the subject, one will focus on providing the students with their general education information, while the other will be there to assist the SPED students or any student that would like some additional help.

“What it will look like is, either the classroom teacher or the special ed teacher will pull a group, which might include four or five kids in special ed, but oftentimes will include any student who may need some extra help,” Di Meo said. “They can be in that small group with the other students, whether or not they’re identified with a special need, and benefit from having that additional teacher.”

As for electives, such as art and physical education, SPED instructors are also training classified support aides to assist the instructors, who will help them cater to the needs of the SPED students that were unable to take electives in the past.

“One of the best things that’s come from these changes is that, previous to this year, my kids (students) who were on specialized support and special ed – their schedule didn’t allow them to take an elective course,” Di Meo said. “Now, because we’ve integrated things in a different way, they’re able to take subjects such as music or art.”

For now, this new service model has only been implemented at the district’s middle schools. The district decided to focus on that after learning that, in past years, a majority of students with an individual education plan (IEP) spent 80% or more of their day in either SPED or general education classes, with little overlap between them.

“Middle school is an amazing time for students, but it’s (also) a challenging time,” Di Meo stated during the Nov. 14 meeting. “It’s that time between childhood and semi-adulthood; we know their brains are still forming, we know they’re taking lots of opportunities, and it’s only two years.”

In order to bridge the gap between SPED and general education, while also facilitating a better learning environment that is less prone to creating negative incidents, VUSD came up with their current service model, which they hope to eventually expand to elementary and high school levels.

“What we’ve done at the middled schools is kind of a starting point, and we’re working really hard to make the adjustments we need to know so we can roll it out to the other levels,” Di Meo said.

Another hurdle the district may face as they try to expand this service model, is the need to hire more faculty to assist general education credential teachers, and train more instructional aides to assist the elective instructors.

“It’s been an investment, because I’ve had to add staffing to do it, but we’re really seeing (this service model) as something that’s really making a difference,” Di Meo said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, but so far, it’s given us some great results.”

These results can be seen with the 18% decrease in negative incidents as well as reducing the number of IEP student expulsions from three to zero. As more and more students are beginning to qualify as needing special education, it was apparent at the VUSD board meeting that the district feels it’s vital to learn how to best cater to those who require additional help.

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