My View: Adequate school funding would benefit students with special needs

Serving as a special education administrator in Boone and Winnebago counties for the past nine years has allowed me numerous opportunities to see the direct, negative impact of the inadequate public school funding system, specifically for students with special needs and their families.

With more dollars, more students with disabilities would have the opportunity for inclusion and its many social and emotional benefits. Too many students with disabilities are left out of the current system and do not have the chance to interact and learn from their general education peers. School districts across the state are limited in their ability to adequately serve all students.

Illinois ranks 49th in the nation for funding adequacy and 50th for funding equity, according to The Education Trust. The Illinois General Assembly is currently reviewing proposals that address the way public schools in Illinois are funded. These bills detail the Evidence Based Model that I feel is a refreshing and honoring approach to addressing the current inadequate and inequitable school funding structure.

The Evidence Based Model would specifically enrich the education of students with special needs by including guidelines that would support more school psychologists, guidance counselors, and school social workers at the district level.

Students with special needs would clearly benefit from having a richer level of support in these areas, and general education students would also have greater access to services in the area of academic, social and emotional supports.

Other key provisions include the addition of instructional coaches that would support teachers and provide timely feedback to improve student learning within all classrooms. A significant majority of students with special needs receive services within the general education setting, and the addition of instructional coaches would support teachers to provide direct, meaningful supports to all students they engage with. The Evidence Based Model also includes provisions for reasonable class size, which is a vital component that impacts the learning environment for all children.

Public concern relating to the Evidence Based Model for public education has focused on the potential reduction of direct funding for students with disabilities. As a leader in the state’s largest special education administrator organization, we have worked with the sponsors of the bills and our coalition partners to make sure that no school district will receive less funds.

On the contrary, the model outlines the need for new revenue which would be necessary in order to achieve the goals of equity and adequacy. It is important to emphasize that changing the current funding system doesn’t change the requirements to meet the needs outlined in a student’s Individualized Educational Plan. The federal and state regulations require specific compliance regarding the provision of specialized services and supports, and each district is mandated to maintain the same or greater levels of funding for special education from year to year, regardless of the specific funding model in place.

The Evidence Based Model equips districts and cooperatives with the resources to provide an outstanding educational experience for all learners in public schools in Illinois. Please join me in contacting our elected officials to encourage them to do the right thing for all students and educators, and finally pass legislation to fix the broken school funding system in Illinois.

Kimberly Moore, Ed.S., is executive director of the Winnebago County Special Education Cooperative, and an Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education board member.

Council Bluffs high school students work at in-house coffee shop … – Omaha World

COUNCIL BLUFFS — Students at Thomas Jefferson High School are gaining real-world experience this year by working at the school’s new in-house coffee shop.

Buzz’s Coffee Brew opened in March after Stephanie Ryan, project director and special education department chairwoman, submitted a classroom grant application to the Council Bluffs Community Education Foundation.

Where most people might see caffeine in a steaming cup of joe, Ryan saw an opportunity. She envisioned a space where students with disabilities could work alongside general education students to learn entry-level job skills.

“I wanted students to be able to work in a diverse learning environment while communicating with various students,” Ryan said.

After Ryan was awarded a $932 grant to open the coffee shop, she recruited student Ruby Morales to help her plan a menu and order supplies. Today, shop visitors can order a number of different items from the menu, including basic black coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate, hot tea, lattes and iced coffee.

“Now that we have everything up and running and have the recipes down, the students know how to make everything and they all know what to do,” Ryan said.

In the shop, Morales works as part of a team to learn valuable skills, including taking orders, setting goals, managing time and communicating effectively.

Morales, a senior, is one of five students working in the shop this trimester. Seniors McGwire Midkiff and Glenn Walker and juniors Abbi Woodward and Scott Foote also work in the shop.

“We have a variety of different needs and level of students that work in the shop, and I did that on purpose,” Ryan said. “I handpicked students for the coffee shop, and we’ve had a great experience with the students that are involved.”

Morales said she loves working in the coffee shop because it’s a lot of fun and she gets to talk to people she wouldn’t normally see during the school day.

“I loved the idea and everything about it,” Morales said. “I love to talk to the students and see them grow and learning skills they probably wouldn’t have gotten outside of this cafe.”

Midkiff is the shop’s student manager. Working in the shop has allowed him to develop management skills and has even led him to consider a career in education, he said.

“I’ve gotten to know the kids really well,” Midkiff said. “I’ve learned how to communicate and how to lead without coming off as rude, and learning from Ms. Ryan has been a major takeaway for me.”

Ryan said she plans to continue the project through next year, when a whole new cohort of students will get the opportunity to work in the shop.

“This has been my dream team,” Ryan said. “We have lot of fun.”

Oakland Unified Special Ed Plan in flux after Superintendent leaves …


Last May, Oakland Unified School District’s former superintendent Antwan Wilson put forth a master plan to prioritize an inclusion teaching model for its special education students. Inclusion is a teaching strategy in which students with special needs are integrated into general education classrooms, and are taught side by side with their general education peers.


Earlier this year, though, the superintendent left for a job in Washington D.C. Since then, the special education department has been in flux. Some parents and teachers are worried the district does not have the resources or the leadership to make inclusion work for everyone.


Nsambi Hasan is mother of a fifth grader named Jared who has ADHD and a speech delay. He’s in an inclusion class at Carl B. Munck Elementary, but Hasan said her son is often bullied, and doesn’t keep up with the class. She is worried that the inclusion class isn’t helping.


“Jared has his own world, and he wakes up in his own world, but every morning, for two and a half hours before he gets to school, I have to get him ready to get into their world,” she said.


The school declined to comment on Jared’s case, but Hasan said she thinks Jared’s problems stem from being left out in class.


“They’re still excluded within inclusion,” she said. “They’re always separated. You’ll always see a table up front, or in the back. If you walk into the classroom and see a table, you’ll know that’s where the special needs students sit.”


Though Oakland recently renewed its push towards more inclusion classes, inclusion is not a new concept. In the U.S., schools first made attempts at inclusion for students with special needs in the early 1960s. One school in Oakland, Montera Middle School, adopted inclusion strategies a decade ago, but according to school board president James Harris, too many special needs students were mostly in separate classes, not interacting much with their general ed peers.


“We have to get in Oakland a throughline in the services we provide,” Harris said.


He added that while Oakland had inclusion programs, they were mostly in schools in more affluent neighborhoods, and that former superintendent Wilson wanted inclusion in every Oakland school.


One of the schools that began piloting inclusion classes under the new plan was Markham Elementary in East Oakland. It piloted inclusion classes with their third, fourth and fifth graders this past September. In their model, each general education class of about 30 students folds in four to five students with mild or moderate special needs. Employing a co-teaching model, a general education teacher and a special education teacher teach the class together, and then break the class into smaller groups for more personalized attention. The goal is that special education students will be sprinkled into the smaller groups, and that their peers can also help teach them concepts.


“They’re able to teach each other, respond to each other,” special education teacher Christell Grace said. She also said it’s been good for general education students as well.


“It’s given them compassion and understanding, it’s given them an understanding that I need to embrace what I have and do my best.”


The Markham model is just one example of how inclusion can be done. At other schools, classes have one or two teachers plus individual aides for special ed students. Fifteen schools received professional development this school year, and the district says inclusion’s happening at all of them, but other teachers, like Sayuri Sakamoto at Bret Harte Middle school, say there are problems with implementation.


“Forty-three percent of this particular class was special education students,” Sakamoto said of one class that was supposed to be piloting inclusion. “Are the students succeeding in their classes? Yes. But could we have done things differently? Yes.”


Natalia Stark, a special education teacher at Oakland International High School, said that her inclusion classes also often have high numbers of special education students, which distorts the idea behind inclusion.


“So that changes the dynamic of the cohort in a way that is very difficult to manage,” Stark said. “As time goes on, if more and more students qualify…then it becomes more difficult to have heterogeneous grouping in the classes and to have students with a variety of skill levels that can teach and tutor each other.”


Sakamoto added that it’s also been difficult having the superintendent who championed inclusion leave while it’s being piloted.


“If there’s nobody leading us and providing this continuity and  these supports… teachers do quit, teachers don’t stay, teachers feel overwhelmed,” she said.


With an interim superintendent currently in place and continued turnover within the special education department, Sakamoto said students often pay the price.


“The lack of stability and leadership…it’s exhausting mentally,” she said. “So when there’s not someone who is firmly planted and firmly rooted…that absolutely affects our students and their learning.”


One of the district’s biggest partners, Teach for America, is also watching how inclusion will roll out. For the last 20 years, Teach for America’s filled about a third of the special education vacancies, about 20-30 teachers for the approximately 60 special education vacancies that happen yearly.  Now, director Tracy Session says they’re “hitting the pause button,” not assigning any new special education teachers until the inclusion plan is more clear.


“We think it’s a great idea, we believe that that should be our aspiration,” Session said about inclusion. “At the same time, our teachers were telling us that they had questions around what it would look like around implementation.”


He adds that he knows Teach for America’s absence will make an impact on special education staffing, but that they decided it was the best move in the long run. They hope to begin assigning new special education teachers to the district in the fall of 2019.


“We actually need to make sure we get it right because it’s what our students deserve, it’s what our families deserve, it’s what our teachers deserve quite frankly,” he said.


Aside from the staffing concerns, school board member James Harris said that one of the other barriers to achieving full inclusion is the price tag. He estimates the most ideal model would cost about 10 million dollars, but with a budget deficit, and a special education department that’s run 7 million dollars over budget in the past two years, Harris isn’t sure where that kind of money would come from.


“We’re trying to do this with a lot less money than New York or New Jersey, and it’s incredibly difficult,” he said.


One idea he proposes is cutting costs by moving services like speech therapy and testing into the district’s special education department, away from private contractors. Neena Bawa, OUSD’s director of schools for special education, said the district needs to better utilize teachers and resources that they already have.  

“We work with schools individually to look at their current staffing, what their students are, and develop a model around that, what is it going to look like in terms of needing extra support, or are we going to be able to use the current staff to support the needs of the students,” Bawa said.


Parent Lisa Rasler has a daughter, Clio, with Down Syndrome. Clio is currently a junior at Oakland Tech and has been in inclusion since Kindergarten.


“Clio has really thrived being in a diverse group of kids, really fully part of the community,” Rasler said. “It’s been in many ways a very good experience.”


But she said she was worried about things as the district moved toward full implementation of inclusion. She thinks inclusion on that scale will require more money than the district has. She speculates that the push for inclusion could be a way to trim the special education budget.


“I think that in some way there’s an idea in the district that universalizing inclusion will be cheaper, and I think that it is not necessarily cheaper at all,” Rasler said. “There are a lot of attending services that need to be provided in order for inclusion to be a really successful model.”


Teacher Natalia Stark was also skeptical of the district’s plans.


“One of the major barriers is, in order to have a successful inclusion program, it will actually cost a lot more money,” she said, “because it requires additional preparation time, and collaboration time…and additional training and additional resources.”

Nonetheless, the district plans to continue implementing district-wide inclusion, with 15 new schools piloting inclusion classes in the coming year. The end goal is that every school in Oakland will offer inclusion services within the next two years.



Norwich Adult Education grads’ nontraditional road leads to success

NORWICH — Forty-five adults who took a nontraditional path were awarded high school diplomas at a Norwich Adult Education graduation ceremony on Thursday evening.

“I spent my whole time failing in my high school career,” graduate Patience Dozier said. But in the adult education program, she said, “the only failure was my sense of self-doubt.”

Dozier, who got straight A’s in her classes, won the John M. Moriarty Memorial Award and a Liberty Bank Scholarship. She hopes to study nuclear engineering at Three Rivers Community College.

High school diplomas were awarded in three programs: one to earn high school credits, a second to prepare for and pass the General Education Development test, and a third online program that takes into account life and work experience.

Rene Ortiz, 25, of Norwich, who passed his GED, said he’s happy “just to know I can stick to something and achieve the goals I set for myself.”

Norwich Adult Education serves about 800 students in Norwich and 11 other Southeastern Connecticut towns. In addition to its high school diploma programs, it offers courses to prepare for the Citizenship Exam and to learn to speak English.

The graduation ceremony took place in the Kelly Middle School auditorium. Several hundred family members and friends looked on and cheered the graduates.

“None of your roads were easy, but you did it, and we’re so happy for you,” Norwich Superintendent of Schools Abby Dolliver told the graduates.

“I feel great,” Elizabeth Polius, 47, of Taftville, said before the ceremony started. “It’s a great achievement, and the first step in the right direction.”

Polius, who won a Faculty Award, the Clarence and Lillian Waite Memorial Award and a Liberty Bank Scholarship, said she plans to go on now to study early childhood education at Three Rivers.

Many graduates plan to attend college. Others will be able to enlist in the military and pursue new job opportunities, Dolliver said.

Daniel Cox, 41, of Franklin (pronounced Danielle), said she pursued her diploma “to not be a dropout any more” after her two children graduated high school in the traditional way. “It was mom’s turn,” she said.

Reducing the stigma: One in five ND students with learning disabilities drops out of high school

In the 2015-16 school year, more than 4,200 children were identified as having specific learning disabilities in the state, according to the report, State of Learning Disabilities, which has been published three previous times in 2009, 2011 and 2014. A little more than 35 percent of those students were identified as having specific learning disabilities (SLD) — such as difficulty reading or learning math skills.

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are classified in the Other Health Impairments (OHI) category, which accounts for more than 15 percent of these students. OHI and SLD prevalence among students receiving special education in the state were consistent with the national rates for the 2015-16 school year. There are 13 classifications.

A majority of these students, 84 percent, spend most of their days in a general education classroom, the study shows. Students with disabilities are also more than twice as likely to be suspended as children without disabilities across the nation, and 47 percent of these suspensions involve special education students with SLD or OHI.

At Dickinson High School, each student with a learning disability usually has some sort of accommodations in the general education classroom, said Darlene Henning, a teacher of the visually impaired at DHS. This can include allowing extra time on assignments or tests, eliminating choices on assignments and having a reader for tests and quizzes. Every child and every learning disability is different, so they all have a tailored individual educational plan (IEP) to help them, she said.

Henning said a teacher explained it to her at one point by thinking of students with learning disabilities like a lamp with a little short in it. Every now and then the light flickers or goes out and burns bright at other times.

“A learning disability can be pretty deceptive because you come across as a very average student but your reading skills are very low and your math skills are very high or vice versa,” Henning said. “So it’s not like being a visually impaired student that walks around with a cane or being a hearing impaired student with a hearing aid — it’s very invisible.”

DHS has about 60 general education teachers, 11 paraprofessionals who assist the students in the classroom and eight special education specialists, including Henning, Jamie Krebs and LaDawn Weidner. The latter two specialize in learning disabilities.

Weidner said teachers need to be flexible, noting that not every student is a “cookie cutter.” Parents know their children best and should advocate on their behalf if they feel their child may need additional help in the classroom.

If a student is suspected of having a learning disability, they go through standardized testing to determine if they meet SLD qualifications. There is a lot of paperwork involved in order to make sure the student meets state SLD requirements to receive the extra help — a process that can take at least 60 days, Henning said. The special education teachers also meet with the student, parents and general education teachers to formulate an IEP.

Students with ADHD will probably sit in the front of the room, may have a copy of the notes if their teacher is presenting a PowerPoint and may have someone write down their assignments, Henning said. The general education teacher and special education teachers work together to coordinate helping the student in that particular class period before the entire process starts over in the next.

There are about 110 students with IEPs at DHS.

“I think watching them get that light bulb moment, succeed, and that gratitude they get, that gratifying feeling like, ‘Oh, now I get it,'” Krebs said. “Just seeing that in them is more gratifying I think than them getting great grades.”

Knowledge is power

Henning has worked at DHS for about 10 years and has worked for the district since 1984. In that time, she has seen many students drop out of school who have different special needs. And each time she feels physically ill afterward.

“The ones that have left have been the ADHD kids,” she said. “Most often, it’s hard for them to conform to our academic system because of the way they are. So they’re very successful once they are not in this environment, but this is a very tough environment for them to be in.”

These students may turn to a more specialized school or join the workforce. Weidner, who has worked at DHS for four years, said she has not had any students drop out, and Krebs, who has worked at DHS for three years, said she has only had one transfer student drop out, though there were other factors beyond just the school environment contributing in that case.

But students with learning disabilities do voice their concerns of feeling stigmatized. Weidner said the biggest complaint she hears is that students do not want to look dumb in front of their peers. To deal with this concern, she spends her time in the classroom assisting all students rather than singling out individuals. She also tells SLD students to head straight to the school’s resource room on test days so she can read the tests aloud, instead of causing a scene in the classroom that would draw attention to their learning disability.

Sheldon Horowitz, senior director at NCLD, said when students repeatedly struggle in school, they may stop feeling good about themselves and may no longer wish to raise their hand and participate. He added that these students are equally as intelligent as their peers, but may simply need additional help in some areas. He advised parents not to wait to find out if they have concerns about their child’s learning ability.

“When it comes to learning and attention issues, knowledge is power, and knowing what they can know and should know about learning and attention issues, and knowing what their rights and responsibilities are or what the child’s rights and responsibilities are under law, can really kick-start a conversation with schools that would get the help that they need,” Horowitz said.

Reducing the stigma around learning disabilities or special education needs is also hugely important.

“There’s no shame in having a learning disability,” Horowitz said. “There’s no shame in having ADHD. There is shame in suspecting and then not doing or saying anything about it.”

For more information about students with learning and attention issues, visit View the entire report at

Jefferson hosts 1st NJAC Unified Track meet

JEFFERSON — A track and field meet took place on Wednesday afternoon at Jefferson High School.

However, it wasn’t your typical meet. It was a historic one.

Jefferson hosted the first Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Unified Track and Field Relay to showcase special-education athletes and general-education athletes who have been competing together in the sport this season.

The idea of the NJAC Unified Track and Field Relay, which featured Jefferson and Morristown High, stemmed from Jefferson’s girls track and field head coach Brian Silipena, a physical education teacher at Jefferson and an aspiring athletic director. He first heard about the Unified Track program at the NJAC athletic director’s meeting that he attended in the fall.

“A representative from the NJSIAA came and talked about the benefits of Unified Track, what it is and how they wanted it to start to take off in New Jersey,” Silipena said. “I thought to myself, This is exactly what I want to do!’ I wanted to bring Unified Track to Jefferson and I wanted the special-education athletes to have the same type of competitive atmosphere in which the general-education athletes do.”

Silipena started to learn everything about Unified Track, a sport that the Special Olympics included as part of its Unified Sports program. Unified Sports “joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team, promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences.”

Silipena even attended a conference in the central part of the state that elaborated more on the program. After that, he said he “had a ton of ideas,” which he presented to the NJAC athletic directors and the special education teachers at Jefferson.

He told them the school would form a Unified Track team, host this invitational and have athletes compete at the NJSIAA’s Meet of Champions, which will have unified athletes competing for the first time. Both the athletic directors and special education teachers “thought it was a great idea,” Silipena said.

“We thought that because we are centrally located among the schools in Sussex and Morris counties that it would be great to get all the NJAC schools involved,” Silipena said. “Everybody was on board.”

With their approval, Silipena and the Falcons formed their first Unified Track team, which sports seven special-education athletes and 10 general-education athletes. The team practices for one hour, once a week.

They also got 10 special education teachers to help out the athletes during practices. Jefferson Unified Track head coach Nicole Wildermuth, a special education teacher and assistant indoor track coach for the Falcons, was amazed at the athletes who came out to compete and how they all bonded throughout this process.

“We have so many kids who never went out for sports, but totally have the drive and determination to do it,” Wildermuth said. “They have gotten better each week and it. And truly, friendships have been made. These kids are hanging out with each other in the hallways, in practice, calling each other by a first-name basis.

“And without Unified Track and Field, they would not have met.”

On Wednesday, these unified athletes showed off their athletic abilities in live competition.

The athletes from Jefferson and Morristown competed in the shot up, long jump, 4×100- and 4×200-meter relays. For each event, each school had a girls and boys team that featured two special-education athletes and two general-education athletes.

Some of the Falcons’ special-education athletes, such as sophomores Roger Besemer and Samantha Rhinesmith, were so ecstatic to be competing and doing it alongside their general-education partners. Besemer teamed up with senior thrower Cole Benfatti in the shot put and senior Aidan Sinisgalli in the long jump, while Rhinesmith was paired with junior thrower Javi Bahamondes in the shot and junior Cassidy Glucksman in the long jump.

“It’s really awesome,” Besemer said. “Definitely hanging out with Aidan and Cole is my favorite thing because they are cool.”

“I love all the events,” Rhinesmith said. “I love hanging with Javi and Cassidy. It’s the best thing.”

As for general-education athletes, they love the program and felt that they even took away some lessons from their special-education teammates.

“We’re helping them out, but they are also teaching us how to be better people,” Sinisgalli said. “It’s a win-win.”

At the end of the meet, the athletes earned medals and were recognized for all of their hard work. More importantly, they were recognized for being a part of an event that had never been done before around these parts of New Jersey and they can’t wait to be a part of next season.

“I’m definitely doing it next year,” Besemer said.

“This is unreal,” Wildermuth said. “I think the people who came out today to support these athletes is so cool and the athletes can see that and say, Wow! This is me doing this!’?”



Fulton’s Unified Basketball Allows Special Education Students Competition Opportunity

Fulton’s Unified Basketball Allows Special Education Students Competition Opportunity

The 2017 FCSD Unified Basketball team.

The 2017 FCSD Unified Basketball team.

Coach Joshua Viscome is awarded a plaque for the district's first year participating in Unified Sports.

Coach Joshua Viscome is awarded a plaque for the district’s first year participating in Unified Sports.

Each player is awarded a medal and t-shirt after the final game of the season.

Each player is awarded a medal and t-shirt after the final game of the season.

The team is applauded after all being awarded a medal and t-shirt.

The team is applauded after all being awarded a medal and t-shirt.

Five partners participate on the Fulton Unified Basketball team.

Five partners participate on the Fulton Unified Basketball team.

The team huddles together before their home game versus ESM.

The team huddles together before their home game versus ESM.

Players are individually announced at each game as they shake the hand of the opposing coach and line up on the court.

Players are individually announced at each game as they shake the hand of the opposing coach and line up on the court.

The team is cheered on after all players are individually announced.

The team is cheered on after all players are individually announced.

The teams meet at half court to shake hands before beginning the game.

The teams meet at half court to shake hands before beginning the game.

The tip off begins a home game against ESM.

The tip off begins a home game against ESM.

An athlete takes a shot during a home game against ESM.

An athlete takes a shot during a home game against ESM.

Players pass the ball as part of running a play during a home game against ESM.

Players pass the ball as part of running a play during a home game against ESM.

Two athletes jump for the ball during a home game against ESM.

Two athletes jump for the ball during a home game against ESM.

An athlete takes a shot during a home game against ESM.

An athlete takes a shot during a home game against ESM.

The partners dribble the ball up the court and help set up and run plays.

The partners dribble the ball up the court and help set up and run plays.

A player narrowly stays in bounds during a home game.

A player narrowly stays in bounds during a home game.

An athlete takes a shot during a home game against ESM.

An athlete takes a shot during a home game against ESM.

FULTON, NY – The Fulton City School District finished the Unified Basketball season with plenty of smiles as it marked the completion of the first program of its kind in the district.

Run in partnership with the Special Olympics, this marked the first year for Section III of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to offer unified sports, following only to Section V who had previously implemented such programs.

Specifically for Fulton City School District, a unified basketball team paired 12 special education students referred to as “athletes” with five general education students referred to as “partners.”

The team was part of a league of six teams from school districts throughout the section including East Syracuse Minoa, Baldwinsville, Fayetteville-Manlius, Liverpool and West Genesee.

The teams traveled to play regulation basketball games against one another and recently held an award ceremony following the final game at West Genesee High School which left all athletes with a commemorative medal and t-shirt, as pride and excitement exuded the athletes.

“To see these kids get so excited about being able to participate, to see their smiles, their desire to score, all of that made this so much fun. It’s a great thing for the community to have an inclusive program to give all kids the opportunity to compete,” said Fulton’s coach, Joshua Viscome.

Coach Viscome, a counselor at GRB High School, along with assistant coach Joe Meeks, special education teacher at GRB High School, were approached for the position given their experience with coaching in the district.

“I didn’t exactly know what it entailed when getting into it, I was just asked to sit on a committee but the more I learned, I knew it was going to be a great experience,” Viscome said.

Beginning in April, the coaches led the team through two practices a week working on the fundamentals of basketball to prepare them for their upcoming games.

During games, the team would play three athletes and two partners at a time to help guide the game.

“The partners were really there to direct the flow of the game. They brought the ball up the court, helped to set up and run plays. They were not there to take over and they were not there just to push the ball off on our athletes. We really wanted to make it an authentic experience for all our players,” said district athletic director, Chris Ells.

Viscome and Ells both agreed that the partners did a “wonderful job” in playing their role.

“Our partners were so good at sharing the ball, they made it easy to get everyone a shot. We had great kids to help our team in its first year,” Viscome said.

One of Ells’ favorite parts of the program overall was watching the interaction between the athletes and the partners, he said.

“I have to give credit to the five general education students we had, they did a phenomenal job,” Ells said.

Ells was instrumental in bringing Unified Sports to Fulton to be a part of the first year of participation in Section III.

“The more I read about it and learned about it, the more I just knew this was such a great opportunity to push for athletic opportunities for all students in our school,” he said.

The new program was well received by district administration as Superintend of Schools, Brian Pulvino referred to it as “powerful” and described watching a game as “one of the most touching experiences” in his educational career.

Community support was one of the driving forces behind the season’s success, according to Ells.

“Having the community join in was phenomenal. This league had such great benefits for our special education and regular education students and everyone really embraced them,” Ells said. “They had such a great fan base with strong support from other sports teams and fellow students showing up at home games to cheer them on and of course their families. It was great to see parent’s reactions to being able to see their child play and the child’s reaction to seeing their family in the crowd.”

The program was so successful in its first year that Ells predicts the league will likely double in size next year, of which FCSD fully intends to participate again.

Eventually, the Unified Sports program at Fulton may grow to incorporate other sports, though at this time that is not yet being pursued, Ells said.

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Faculty Senate approves design for general education revision

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Acting at its final meeting for the 2016-17 academic year, the Western Michigan University Faculty Senate approved a memorandum of action May 11, adopting a model to use in revising the University’s general education curriculum.

By a four-to-one margin, senators approved a model for the new curriculum, setting the stage for implementation of the first significant change to WMU’s general education offerings in 33 years. The new curriculum, named WMU Essential Studies at an earlier Senate meeting, is scheduled for use in the classroom for fall 2018.

Approval of the memorandum of action OKs the design plan for the new curriculum, completing the second of three steps in the Senate process which already reflects four years of work. That work began with assessment of the current general education curriculum and the decision to revise it. The next step was to design a model to guide the revision. With that second step now complete, the third step—implementation—will begin immediately. Working over the summer, a Senate Logistics Committee will begin the work of determining key elements requiring faculty/staff and administration consideration. This work will enable the development of a timeline and implementation plan to be presented to senators for approval as a recommendation for administrative approval and resourcing by the end of the 2017-18 academic year.

“This was a definitive action on the design document that has been under development since September,” said Dr. Suzan F. Ayers, president of the Faculty Senate in announcing the vote outcome. “This is essentially a blueprint for moving forward with a new curriculum.”

The model approved, according to the memorandum of action background, provides “a learner-centered approach to general education that balances acquisition of essential skills and content with prioritizing student-learning outcomes that prepare WMU students to succeed in an ever-changing world.”

The design model features a “scaffolding of skills throughout the curriculum” and will strengthen writing across the curriculum. All of the areas taught in WMU’s existing general education curriculum can be encompassed, and new skills and content areas will be added. Five areas that will be built into the new curriculum are:

    • Diversity and inclusion

    • Global Awareness

    • Critical thinking

    • Sustainability

    • Real-world problem solving

The WMU Essential Studies’ design calls for students to take one course in each of 12 categories, and is focused on supporting student retention and success as well as greater flexibility in teaching approaches and learner experiences.

“I really want to acknowledge the work of the group who did this heavy lifting as well as those who have begun working on the logistics,” says Ayers. “They deserve our gratitude.”

Design Committee members

Chair Mervyn Elliott, aviation

Vice Chair Molly Lynde-Recchia, world languages and literature

Administration Representative Dave Reinhold

Faculty Senate Board Member Bill Rantz

Dan Jacobsen, music

Kevin Knutson, arts and sciences advising

Staci Perryman-Clark, English

Elke Schoffers, chemistry

Sarah Summy, special education and literacy studies

Kristina Wirtz, Spanish

Logistics Committee members

Chair Mervyn Elliott, aviation

Vice Chair Leigh Ford, communications

Staci Perryman-Clark, English

Elke Schoffers, chemistry

Sarah Summy, special education and literacy studies

Bill Warren, history

Advisory members

Ed Martini, associate dean of Extended University Programs

Terrell Hodge, director of Student Financial Aid

Sharon Van Dyken, director of aviation advising

Administration representatives

Carrie Cumming, registrar

Dave Reinhold

Committee’s Faculty Senate board members

Jan Hahn

Dennis Simpson

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit

Top Education Department official resigns

The Department of Education building is pictured. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

An Education Department official, who declined to be named, said Runcie’s resignation came abruptly at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday after DeVos directed him to testify before the House oversight panel. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

James Runcie, head of the agency’s student aid office, submitted his resignation last night, effective immediately.

The head of the Education Department’s student financial aid office has resigned after more than seven years on the job following an apparent dispute with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over his scheduled testimony before the House Oversight Committee.

James Runcie, chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid, “submitted his resignation to the department last night,” effective immediately, the agency said in a news release. Runcie had been slated to testify on Thursday before the House Oversight Committee regarding the department’s rising improper payment rate for federal student aid programs.

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An Education Department official, who requested anonymity, said Runcie’s resignation came abruptly at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday after DeVos directed him to testify before the House oversight panel. The department official said Runcie also refused requests to testify made by the committee and Jim Manning, the department’s acting undersecretary.

Runcie’s name is included on a committee witness list for the hearing. The Education Department’sinspector general and the head of a group representing financial aid administrators are also slated to testify. A committee spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The department official said Runcie said he wasn’t the correct person to testify about the issue, but department leadership indicated they didn’t understand his reasoning and are baffled by his refusal to testify.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” the official said. “We don’t know.”

Runcie could not immediately be reached on Wednesday.

Runcie’s deputy, Matthew Sessa, will lead the office “until further notice,” the department said in a statement.

An email from a department official that circulated to Office of Federal Student Aid staffers and obtained by POLITICO said that Runcie “felt it was time to give an opportunity to someone else to provide leadership under a new Secretary of Education.”

The Office of Federal Student Aid runs the federal government’s massive $1 trillion student lending operation, disburses Pell grants and regulates colleges and universities.

The resignation also comes as DeVos has proposed an overhaul of how the department collects student loan payments and has reportedly scaled back its enforcement of for-profit colleges.

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz called it “disappointing” that “Mr. Runcie would rather resign than testify before Congress” and encouraged DeVos to appoint a new chief operating officer who “values security and competency over politics.”

Chaffetz said that under Runcie’s leadership, “federal aid systems are less secure, performance has suffered and improper payments have increased. For years, the Inspector General and this Committee have warned the Department of Education of vulnerabilities to its $1.1 trillion federal loans program.”

Runcie was most recently re-appointed by former Education Secretary Arne Duncan to a new five-year term starting in December 2015. The role is not a political position; the FSA chief can only be removed from his post for cause.

USD 501 considering Avondale West as new alternative school site

Topeka Unified School District 501 officials have confirmed the soon-to-be-closed Avondale West Elementary School will likely become the district’s alternative middle and high school, but a final decision hasn’t been made.

“Planning is still underway with many topics and details still being decided,” Misty Kruger, USD 501’s spokeswoman, said in an email Tuesday. “We have a couple of building options within the district with Avondale West being one of them, but a formal decision has not been made.”

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Two custodian positions were posted Monday on the district’s employment webpage for “Avondale Alternative School.”

Kruger said that while a final decision hasn’t been made to make the school the district’s alternative school for middle and high school students, custodial staff will still be needed for the building because the district plans to repurpose it. She said Tuesday the school is “one of the main locations we’re considering” and that “from a facilities standpoint, the recommendation will be to make Avondale West an alternative school.”

Kruger said the alternative school won’t open in August but it likely will in the first half of the 2017-18 school year.

A presentation on the district’s proposal to convert the building into an alternative school will be made at a future board of education meeting, but the date hasn’t been determined, she said.

Board vice president Mike Morrison, who represents the area where Avondale West is located, said he has heard that the district wants to repurpose the building for the alternative middle and high school, but the board hasn’t yet seen a proposal.

“We need to see that,” he said. “It needs to come before us. There should be a plan and we should vote on it.”

Avondale West, located at 3229 S.W. Westview Ave., a block east of S.W. Burlingame and Clontarf, will close as a traditional school on Thursday, along with Shaner and Bishop elementaries. Students from the three schools will have the option to attend the new Jardine Elementary Academy, built with $33 million of the 2014 bond issue funds, beginning in August, which is connected to the current Jardine Middle School, 2600 S.W. 33rd Street.

District officials have said there are plans to convert Shaner into a preschool facility and Bishop into a USD 501 professional development building. As of earlier this school year, there weren’t plans for Avondale West except that another use for the building would be determined at a later date.

During the board’s April 20 meeting, Joy Grimes, an assistant principal at Topeka West High School, was approved to be principal of the alternative school.

Grimes told board members during their April 6 board meeting the school will be for the group of students that USD 501 hasn’t “done a good job of serving.”

“We still have a population we need to serve,” she said, referring specifically to general education students who are struggling with social-emotional issues, such as trauma. “That’s where the alternative school concept for gen ed kids came from.”

Grimes said there would likely be 80 to 100 students who would attend the alternative school, especially those who receive out-of-school suspensions for violent incidents at their home school.

Superintendent Tiffany Anderson reiterated that an alternative school for general education students is needed. Hope Street Academy serves students who are behind on their high school credits, she said, but is for students who don’t have any violent incidents on their records. Capital City is for middle- and high-school special education students who are on Individual Education Plans for behavioral or emotional problems.

Anderson said the alternative school option is for students who haven’t been expelled. She said providing support services within an alternative school setting also would be more cost-efficient.

Dustin Dick, principal of Topeka West, said an alternative school for students who receive out-of-school suspensions is needed so general education students receive some kind of instruction and don’t fall behind in their classwork.

“Anything we can do to help kids graduate, anything to be successful,” he said in April, “we’d like to do some things on our own instead of sending them out to someone else.”

Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.