Exeter School District puts focus on special education

EXETER TWP., Pa. - The Exeter Township School District dedicated a committee meeting Tuesday night to the development of its special education program.

The meeting was led by Suzanne Miller, supervisor of special education for the district.

Miller said reform of the "gifted student" criteria has been a priority since she arrived at the district a year ago, as it was one of the first things brought to her attention.

"When I walked in the door we had a complaint filed against the district from a family who had grounds for complaint," said Miller.

She also noted that 8% of Exeter's students are categorized as gifted and receive support, as opposed to the average 5% in the district.

Because of the high number of gifted students, district officials had to reassign caseloads and they had just added a teacher for gifted students because of the need.

Rather than granting students specialized education status right away, the proposed criteria would identify students who have academic abilities that go beyond what the school can offer through differentiated teaching.

This would allow students of varying levels to progress in the classroom while meeting individual needs.

To propel students who are struggling to complete school forward, Miller has suggested the district should look to becoming a part of the "Gateway to College" program where students, fit for the program, could obtain a diploma as well as college credits.

The program focuses on students who are off track to graduate, dropped out, or are behind in credits.

They are required to have an 8th grade reading level, a maximum 2.0 GPA, and demonstrate readiness for re-engagement in their education.

"We are looking to try out one student who is struggling and has had hurdles and see if that student is going to be able to get through the year with a diploma and credits," said Miller.

Exeter is also exploring new possibilities for a supported cyber school for their special education students, as virtual education is becoming increasingly popular in the district.

The single-year increase for the 2011-12 expenses for Cyber Charter schools was up 139% and $487,000 from the previous year.

This program would cost the district approximately $7,700, which is a significant decrease in cost from the $22,800 per student enrolled in a Pennsylvania Virtual high school. 

Miller believes a supported program such as this would be beneficial to students who would enroll because of the additional support, such as counseling/social skills instruction, transition services and courses, it provides to students at their level, and part-time enrollment in a school environment.

"I think we just have to keep working towards creative solutions," said Beverly Martin, Superintendent.

The school board will have a workshop meeting on June 10 at 7 p.m.

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