Saturday, March 14, 2015

Terese Jurgensen, March 5, 2014

Iowa Assessments
Crestwood Elementary has been taking the Iowa Assessments this week on March 10th, 11th, and 12th. In preparation for the tests, as has been shared the last few weeks, the students made videos sharing out the test taking strategies that helped them alleviate any undo and unnecessary stress. Iowa Assessments have little to nothing in common with the unique, hands-on, engaging formative and summative assessments that we are use with our students here at Howard Winneshiek Community Schools. However, the State of Iowa takes them seriously and therefore, we prepared our students and helped them understand that their testing scores are important to our school.  By preparing our students, it was an opportunity to support them in learning how to set goals, work as an elementary team of students (younger students were very respectful and quiet in the hallways!) and have a little fun along the way!  I have a short video of a 4th grade student sharing his thoughts about taking the Iowa Assessments.

Iowa Assessments - A Student's Perspective for 2015

Special Education Programming 

Looking Forward to 2015 - 2016

I was hired by the Howard Winneshiek Community Schools in late July 2014. One of the mandates our school board gave to me was they wanted to see our special education programming, grades PK-12, evolve into something different...something that would significantly impact the learning of our students who had unique learning needs. Quite honestly, that was the main reason that I  accepted the position and moved to Cresco (my husband still lives and works in Cedar Rapids - yes, we are still married!) and brought my daughter, Emily, to live and go to high school at Crestwood High.
My love and passion for students who are entitled to special education services is something that drives me.  When school started, I went forward full-force.  Some would argue - too forcefully. I know and believe that time is precious to all students, but especially those who have a significant achievement gap. Special Education teachers do not strive to have their students make one years growth, but indeed aim towards closing the gap with (at the minimum) 1.5 years growth or even more if possible per year.   It is a very demanding, important and worthwhile calling. 
During the first months of school, Mr. Carver spent time mentoring and taught me about Second Order Change. I took it to heart and partnered with our staff, parents and AEA to make significant, worthwhile changes in the writings of our IEP's, direct instruction in the areas of reading, writing, math and especially in the areas of challenging behaviors. Let's take a look at the definition of Second Order Change:

Second-order change
  • New way of seeing things
  • Shifting gears
  • Irreversible
  • Often begins through the informal system
  • Transformation to something quite different
  • Requires new learning
  • New story is told

New Way of Seeing Things: One area that we have worked on throughout the district is keeping special education students in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  I like to refer this to the Core + More.  For the majority of our students, it is in their best interest to have their goal areas first taught in the general education setting (Iowa Core) and then receive specially designed instruction in a small group setting - specifically in their goal areas of need. This philosophy is researched based and is proven to close the achievement gap. 

Shifting Gears: Change is never easy.  We have several students that we send on a bus at 7:15 to Decorah Schools.  Many of them do not return home until very late because of travel time.  We have a total of 13 students traveling to Decorah daily. I have been diligent in attending as many of these IEP's as I can. One goal I have accomplished is that when our students start to transition back to public school, instead of attending Decorah schools, we will have them transitioning back to school with us at Howard-Winn. It is my long-range vision to provide this specialized instruction in our district. 

Irreversible: Positive change is never reversible. 

Often Begins Informally: Informally, there have been countless, positive conversations during PLC time, after school, emails and during IEP meetings with teachers, associates and parents about best practices in special education. Information regarding Special Education Law and the Special Education Procedures from the State Manual, is common practice now and not something that staff is surprised about hearing, but one they have come to expect and research for themselves. 

Requires New Learning: Professional Development has been implemented in regards to all levels of instruction, for all staff. I have been training our general and special education staff utilizing researched based strategies such as the Zones of Regulation for impulse control, executive functioning supports, (teaching associate staff to train students on attention/focus/organization) and social thinking. Additional opportunities have been offered throughout the year for reading fluency, comprehension and rigor during special education instruction. I would also welcome the opportunity to train our general education staff the specifics of what is required by general education teachers in supporting the accommodations and modifications, required by law, when special education students are integrated into their classrooms.  The law is ever-changing, and I want to make sure all of our staff is up-to-date on these requirements.

Transformation to Something Quite Different: Big Picture for next year is that we will have staff trained to deliver instruction in small group settings in the areas of social thinking, social skills, and self-regulation in addition to all core areas. We will not be depending on associates to "keep students focused," but rather are moving towards the students gaining independence. We will have a focus on providing direct instruction for students who struggle with perspective-taking and social behavior mapping (autism spectrum disabilities) regardless if they have the "label" or not. We also want to provide quality, co-teaching opportunities where our special education staff is partnering and teaching along with our general education staff. To formally implement these changes, we are rewriting our Special Education Service Delivery Plan for our district this spring. It is exciting!

New Story is Told: I believe and have experienced Second Order Change in previous districts. By the end of our second year, we started to see families move into and open-enroll into these districts for the outstanding special education and at-risk programming we provided students. The vision and the future that I see for our school district is far greater.  I have never had the opportunity to work with such an outstanding and creative staff (General Education, Special Education, Associates, Administrators and School Board) that we have at Howard-Winneshiek. We are a staff that is committed to reaching into the heart of our students and building on their strengths, inspiring their passions and preparing them for a global world!  It is an honor to serve all of you as our Special Education Director.

Kelly Sorenson's 5th Grade Class Presents!
A Poetry Slam Event! 

Last Friday, March 6th, Mrs. Sorenson's class invited in their parents and grandparents to watch and experience a Poetry Slam!  The event started with several round-table opportunities to listen to, speak, and create poetry with unique poetry apps. The main attraction was having the students recite and act out their own original poems! It was really fun and so creative!

Parents and Grandparents enjoying their children reciting and
acting out their original poems!

Tami Foster and her daughter practice tongue twisters! 

Have a wonderful week! 
Terese Jurgensen

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