BOE hears special ed. action plan update

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
The West Orange Board of Education discusses the action plan resulting from the special education audit at its May 7 meeting at Liberty Middle School.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education was updated at its May 7 meeting on the progress of the action plan resulting from the recent special education audit, with a presentation by Kristin Gogerty, the district’s director of special services. An audit of the district’s special education services began last year and the results were presented to the BOE in January. The special services department then created an action plan to improve the learning experience for special education students in West Orange.

At this point, the plan focuses on comparing West Orange School District to other local school districts to learn about new methods to improve the WOSD’s special education department. Gogerty’s presentation also highlighted the need for the department to better communicate with parents and staff members. A program philosophy was also developed to guide the department.

“It started with developing a program philosophy; that’s been completed,” Gogerty said at the meeting. “I, as well as the special services administration, have collaborated with our self-contained teachers of students with autism, and we have a philosophy.”

BOE member Ken Alper asked that the program philosophy be published for residents and parents to see; he also asked about the special education manual being developed by the special services department. In response, Gogerty said the philosophy will be published online and the manual is nearing completion.

Professional development is also a part of the action plan. Special education teachers will be going through training to better work with students, especially those in the self-contained program. This program is for students with special needs who do not have classes with the general student population.

“We have a consultant that’s scheduled to come in on May 15, to provide a three-hour professional development to our teachers of self-contained students with autism,” Gogerty said, adding that the professional development training “is specific to developing additional programs to meet the individualized needs of the student.”

Gogerty said she and other special services administrators will also be visiting neighboring districts to observe their practices.

“Myself and the other two supervisors are scheduling visits to other public school districts that have self-contained autism programs, so we can visit the school and obtain information with regards to their instruction practices,” Gogerty said.

“I’m glad to see that you and your staff will be visiting other districts to see what the best practices are there and how to implement them here,” BOE member Sandra Mordecai said.

Communication is a major focus of the new action plan. According to Gogerty, special education and general education staff members at each school are meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page and knows which students need additional attention and what form that attention should take. The department is making sure to maximize the number of paraprofessionals in the classrooms, and attempting to stay in constant communication with parents about changes within the department.

“The first thing is to develop a monthly meeting schedule for the West Orange Special Education Parent Advisory Council and really communicate these events,” Gogerty said, adding that WOSEPAC will alternate between holding educational events and monthly meetings.

“We have a monthly meeting schedule that was established early on in the school year,” Gogerty said. “The format of the meetings was determined where an educational event is held one month followed by a regular meeting. The goal is to have that monthly meeting schedule developed into next year.”

BOE members seemed pleased with the progress currently being made.

“This is great,” Alper said at the meeting. “It’s great to see so many things are already completed and that there’s so much progress on the things that aren’t yet completed.”