School district looking at special education offerings

Warren County School District administration is conducting a long-range analysis of special education offerings.

Director of Pupil Services Patricia Hawley-Horner told the school board’s Curriculum, Instruction and Technology Committee on Monday that she has been working with the district’s special education supervisors over the last six to eight weeks as part of a “preliminary conversation (to) continue to collect data so we can make very firm recommendations” regarding the services the district will offer.

Horner explained that the goal is to make long-term program recommendations. “This is not about facilities, not about saving money,” she said. “(It is) about developing programs that are good for students. As we continue to work through this, we will continue to bring it back to the board.”

To get a sense for how special education services are provided throughout the district, it is important to remember that not all services are provided in each school. While learning support is provided district-wide, life skills, as well as emotional and autistic support services, are only offered in certain schools.

For example, life skills are offered at Beaty, South Street, Warren Area Elementary, Warren Area High, Youngsville Elementary Middle and Youngsville High schools while autistic support is only offered at Beaty and Allegheny Valley Elementary. Sheffield Elementary and High School, as well as the three schools in the northern attendance area, have no specialized services available. Students in those areas who have need for a specific service not offered at their school are transported to a school where the added support is available.

“We started looking at individual student needs,” Hawley-Horner said. “We’re trying to develop programs that are best for kids…that can service the needs of student populations.”

A presentation posted on the school district’s website offers program recommendations includes a sixth through 12th grade full-time autistic support program and the current ninth through 12th grade part-time program in emotional support expanding to full time with a therapeutic support component added.

Looking to the future, administration recommends K-12 autistic support in the west and east, K-12 emotional support in the west and east as well as a K-12 life skills program in the central attendance area.

“Right now, if a parent came to me and (asked) what it looks like, life skills program, I can sit here in confidence and explain to the parent ‘here are the services to support the needs of your child.’ We want to continue to develop those,” said Hawley-Horner.

Committee Chairman Dr. Paul Yourchisin asked if the recommendations were driven by school construction projects and adapting to meet needs as a result.

“No. These are long-term plans to create strong programs,” Hawley-Horner said. By long-term, she pointed to ed a three- to five-year vision, acknowledging that service offerings must be reviewed annually based on student need as well.

Board member Tom Knapp asked what additional support, in terms of staff and finances, would be needed to implement these changes. “When we come back to committee in March, I want to bring it to the board in detail,” Hawley-Horner explained. “(We’re) looking to utilize our resources in a more effective manner.”

“This is not a project that was queued up last week in an ordinary fashion,” Acting Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “They will have an impact on the budget.” She reminded the board that former superintendent Brandon Hufnagel “queued up a study” of the district’s emotional support options. “There’s a connect-the-dot to that,” Stewart said.

“I really appreciate seeing and feeling a comprehensive look at a program for our school district,” board member John Grant said. “I see the big picture. I see the potential to grow the program within the framework.”