Small Changes Make Big Impact on Special Education

Small Changes Make a Big Impact on Local Special Education
Posted on 08/22/2022
WC Schools Special Education Administrative Staff

Weakley County Schools’ Special Education Department is making improvements to support more teaching and less paperwork for special education teachers.  

With 19 years of work in special education, first year Supervisor Eva Essary recognized the need to simplify procedures and administrative tasks required for teachers in her department. The changes are also in response to surveyed feedback from school personnel. 

The first update on Essary’s list is the expanded use of an application called Easy IEP, a secure digital program that streamlines the document management and reporting process for over 600 students who receive special education services. Essary believes the program will trim the time that teachers devote to paperwork.  

“Approximately 1 out of every 7 students in our county receive special education services.  Each of these students is required to have an Individualized Education Program [IEP], which is developed to ensure that children who have a disability identified through an evaluation process get the specialized instruction or services that they need,” explained Essary. “The maintenance of an IEP has historically been a lengthy, handwritten process. Many educators find the amount of paperwork and time it requires to be the most challenging aspect of the job. The Easy IEP program allows for the collaborative, quick creation of a draft IEP for a student during an IEP meeting. The tool helps special education teachers save time and prevent errors. It translates to more emphasis on teaching to best serve our students.” 

Another measure includes the addition of two school psychologists, bringing the district total to three. School psychologists are highly trained in providing students with comprehensive mental health, learning, and behavioral services.  

Essary said the work of the school psychologists will further alleviate the workload on special education teachers.  

“Each student’s eligibility for special education services is re-evaluated every three years. In most school districts, special education teachers are required to spearhead the re-evaluation process. This work includes data collection, collaborative observation sessions, academic details, gathering information from mental and physical health providers assigned to the student, and more. Our experienced school psychologists are taking the lead on re-evaluations, and that helps to alleviate the pressure on our educators. It’s important that our teachers can prioritize their attention to teaching our students. I’m confident that these new measures will benefit everyone involved,” said Essary. 

Also under way is the CHANGE Program, short for Creating Habits that Allow New Growth Everyday, for grades K-4. Assistant Director of Schools Betsi Foster explained that a CHANGE Program classroom has been specifically designed for students who require a more individualized approach in addressing academic readiness regarding behavior. 

“In terms of the needs of our students, it’s important that we meet them where they are right now. Just like no two children are the same, the needs of each student will vary, too. Once a child is determined to have unmet behavioral needs by school administration and the child’s parents, an action plan is set in place for the child to meet goals and focus on behavior improvement alongside academic progress,” explained Foster. “The CHANGE Program provides a positive and organized space for learning, social skills instruction, a supportive behavioral support system, small and large group learning opportunities, and a basis for understanding rules, routines, and schedules. The ultimate goal for the child is to return back to the classroom with improved behavior and set up for academic success,” said Foster.  

More news from the department includes a program at Martin Middle School that will prepare students to join “The View Crew” once they transition to Westview High School. As the student-to-teacher ratio continues to rise for special education classes at Sharon School and Westview High, the district identified that a need could be met in the form of a new location for students to receive services. The program at Martin Middle will build on foundational learning to develop a strong balance of academics and job readiness skills to prepare the students for high school. 

The department also welcomes a special education clerk to assist teachers, two speech language pathology assistants [SLPA] to support speech language pathologists, and several new team members of existing programs in the department. 

Director of Schools Randy Frazier believes that the return on the investment of support personnel will be lasting. 

“If you are an educator, you wear various hats on any given day. Special education teachers, however, have an added stack of regulatory paperwork and file maintenance for students. Across the nation, schools are losing wonderful special education teachers because of the amount of paperwork required. Special education teachers want to teach, and we are taking action for teaching to be at the forefront. If our special education teachers feel supported and valued, our students will continue to benefit from excellent instruction,” said Frazier. 

Essary has served in a variety of roles within special education for the last 19 years, and 11 of them were in Weakley County Schools. In her first year in the role of Supervisor, Essary’s vision is to inspire her team to become agents of change. She’s on a mission to lift up her staff with encouragement and appreciation. 

“It’s my goal to listen to our teachers and let them know they are valued. We take special education very seriously and the children we serve are our top priority. We strive to lift our teams up in support of that goal,” Essary stated. “It’s remarkable to have a group as knowledgeable and talented in a rural area like ours that serves students, teachers, and parents year-round. Above all, what matters most are the children we serve. When the ultimate goal is to best serve the needs of the student, we’re doing it right.”