Teaming up for Special Needs Placement
“The hardest part is getting started,” said Ruth Liebold, special education facilitator at Steel Center Area Vocational Technical School (AVTS). That is how she and her colleagues at four career and tech centers (CTCs) in Allegheny County felt about the challenges with placing special needs students in their centers.
According to Susan Grant, career development supervisor for Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3, once these schools got together and saw the benefit of what they were doing, it just fell into place. What they were doing was developing a process for districts and CTCs to use to help better serve the hundreds of special needs students these four CTCs serve.
Liebold and the special education facilitators took their cue from Grant, who was already meeting regularly with district transition coordinators. The Alegheny CTCs started meeting to discuss what was needed to better place and transition special needs students. These discussions developed into their three-step process to better serve these students.
Getting out the Information
The first step is to make sure that everyone at the centers, sending schools and district office knew what information each group needed to provide for a successful placement. The CTCs then developed a checklist of items that each group could quickly reference and complete for each student. “The CTCs didn’t always know what was needed and now it is understood,” said Grant.
For example, Pennsylvania Information Management System reports took the student’s first year to reach the CTC. Now those reports are handed over to the CTCs in October. “The PIMS report has information so readily available and it needs to be shared in a timely manner,” said Liebold.
Visiting the School
“It would be great for all students to visit before enrolling so they could make better decisions,” Liebold explained, “but, with special populations, we have a certain obligation to make sure they understand what they are signing up for.”
“I don’t like the idea of a student picking a program off a description on a piece of paper,” said Liebold. That is why special needs students don’t just tour the center. They also visit the program, spending time with the instructor and peers. “They see the requirements and what they are expected to do. You can’t pick a program off a piece of paper that you will be in for three hours, five days a week, for 180 days.”
Liebold explained that the visits really help with programs where licensing or certifications are involved. “You can’t get employed without the certification. Visiting gives the student a better idea of whether they can perform these tasks. The standard assessment is what they will have to do at the end. With the visit, they know up front, before they put out the money for the cosmetology kit or do heavy duty anatomy or physiology for health.”
Participating in the IEP
“Having CTCs participate in that first IEP (individualized education plan) where they are talking about placement was where we saw the biggest disconnect,” said Grant. “Sometimes, CTCs weren’t even invited. The district thought that having the transition coordinator was enough. But a CTC person needs to be there. They can’t be replaced.”
“CTCs are a regular education facility and can only accommodate certain things,” said Liebold. “Making everyone aware of what can be accommodated is important to student success.”
Success With the Process
After about two years of using the process in Allegheny County, everyone has seen marked improvements. Liebold said she has about 80 to 90 percent of students out to visit prior to applying. Also, all four of the CTCs are receiving invites to the first IEP that places students at the CTC. In prior years, Liebold would be invited to about 60 percent of those first IEPs. Now, she is attending about 95 percent of those meetings. ”The IEPs are now being revised with the tech center in there,” she said.
Liebold added that, before using the process, she would have a dozen special needs kids that she did not know had IEPs at the beginning of the school year. This school year it was only about five kids.
“This process does really help with IEP and paperwork for CTCs," added Grant, "but it is about student success. The kids are doing better with this process in place.”
According to Grant, the number of students failing and returning back to feeder schools has decreased. “The benefit is seen in that first year when they transition well and find a good home in a program,” she said. “It is just like what they say about that freshman year of college. If they transition well that first year, they will be completers.”
Grant concluded, “This process is not daunting. It can be followed pretty quickly and easily. It is important information that provides student success.”