Monday August 19, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Windham Southeast Supervisory Union is going to take part in a five-year, federally funded program that looks to increase the amount of time special needs students spend in the classroom with their peers.

Across the country, five states were chosen to receive technical assistance in the $24.5 million initiative.

Vermont, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Oregon are taking part in the program.

In Vermont four school districts, including Windham Southeast, Franklin Northwest, Grand Isle and Southwest Vermont, are having their schools work with the trainers.

The Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation Center, or SWIFT, is funded by the U.S Department of Education.

WSESU Superintendent Ron Stahley said the schools in Windham Southeast have been working to have their special needs students spend more time in their regular classrooms, and less time outside with only their one-on-one support.

The five-year study will look at what schools are doing with their students, and then University of Kansas staff will work with the teachers and administrators to improve on the strategies that are working.

"This is about inclusionary special ed. This supports the work we are doing anyway," Stahley said. "This should benefit us. We are in the process of doing more of this so why not get the technical assistance to support us."

Stahley said all of the elementary and middle schools in the district will take part in the K-8 grade study.


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The states were chosen based on criteria that included having a combination of rural, urban and high need districts.

Each of the states have four school districts working in the program.

WSESU was asked by the Vermont Agency of Education to take part in the program.

The study is being led by researchers at University of Kansas who have been tracking the SWIFT model for 10 years.

Low income schools in California, Kansas City, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., have made changes that have improved social and academic outcomes University of Kansas reports.

"A visitor to these schools would see all students, including those with significant needs, in grade level classrooms and other school settings with their peers," said Amy McCart, University of Kansas associate research professor and SWIFT director of technical assistance.

Stahley said he is looking forward to having outside specialists look at the programs at WSESU.

"Students with intense special needs and behaviors need to be able to be in the main stream class as much as is appropriate," he said. "People in the state felt it might be good for a district like ours to be a part of this."

The schools in the district have formal restructuring programs in place, a requirement of taking part in the study, he said.

WSESU special needs students receive one-to-one support and take part in enrichment programs, Stahley said.

Wayne Sailor, professor of special education and director of the SWIFT Center at University of Kansas says education agencies across the country will have access to the information and will be able to interact with each other to share strategies for educating special needs students.

"SWIFT reintegrates and reclaims the expertise that is now fragmented across educational specialties and focuses all of the resources to allow teaching and learning to flourish in a really new way," Sailor said.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.