The Cherokee School District, as well as districts across the state, is changing the way special education services are delivered.
The Cherokee District has already begun, incorporating more special education services within the regular classroom, with particular emphasis on the elementary program this year.
"This involves a change of mindset, with resource room teachers having less and less of a separate program and serving more as consultants in the regular classroom," John Chalstrom, superintendent, said at the Monday evening meeting of the management team (board members and administrators).
The state has set a goal for school districts to increase the amount of time that students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) spend in the regular classroom. An IEP is given to students with learning disabilities, behavioral disorders or who for any reason are classified as needing extra assistance in learning.
In two years, the objective is to have 75 percent of students with IEPs spend 80 percent of their time in the regular classroom rather than in "pull out" or resource room programs. Before the current year, less than 40 percent of IEP students spent at least 80 percent of their time in the regular classroom.
Another goal is to have fewer students on IEPs. In the Cherokee District, 17.8 percent of students have IEPs while the state average is a little over 14 percent.
Chalstrom explained that in the future, there will be more attempts at intervention, trying to find the particular needs of student before a determination is given that the student needs an IEP. Chalstrom explained that the intervention may avoid putting a label on a student that has long-term consequences.
Barb Radke, Roosevelt Elementary principal, said that there have already been positive changes in the program but there have also been obstacles to overcome, particularly in scheduling the limited special ed staff to spend time in all the classrooms.
"It has been a scheduling nightmare," Radke said.
"It's like building a plane while it's in the air," said Linda Abbott, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.
Despite the challenges created, there have been positive changes in how staff members interact.
"One of the most successful things we've seen has been the team approach, not putting it onto one teacher to deliver services to students," Radke said.