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Chappaqua Schools Redefine Special Ed Programs

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – In an effort to strengthen the services it provides and define goals it hopes to achieve, Chappaqua Central School District’s special education program unveiled its new, “clear” mission statement last week at a board of education meeting.

“We are committed to prepare all students for productive lives as full members of society,” read the statement. “Therefore, we believe it is our obligation to provide equitable opportunities for students with disabilities to receive effective educational services, with the needed supplementary aids and support services, in age-appropriate general education classrooms in their neighborhood schools.”

Along with the help of administrators, the statement was crafted by Heidi McCarthy, director of special education and related services. After meeting with teachers and parents in the community, McCarthy said she felt there was a need for clarity in the program.

“I heard clearly about this belief statement and that it needed to be clearly articulated,” said McCarthy. “What did we really believe about educating students with disabilities here in our school district?”

With the clear mission statement finalized, McCarthy, along with educators from every district school building, began developing an inclusive practices advisory committee to monitor the program even further.

Through the committee, McCarthy learned that differentiation – meeting the needs of all students with varying disabilities – was a top priority. She said one of the ways to achieve this is through co-teaching and teaching consultants.

“Having two teachers in the classroom adds to differentiation right there,” said McCarthy, who said hearing two expert voices rather than just one is beneficial to students. “You can get around to all the students and be able to differentiate to them.”

The program also hopes to find better ways of measuring its effectiveness. To do this, McCarthy said the program will identify strengths and needs, commit to annual measurable goals, and give frequent progress reports to parents.

She said if it is clear through these reports that students are not meeting goals, alterations to the program will be made. McCarthy, however, said that every student in the program last year made progress in all areas.

She also said that the engagement from students that have gone through the program and are now in college has been above average. According to McCarthy, 27 out of 33 students responded to the recent survey she sent out.

Currently, the program provides such services as speech therapy, vision services, counseling, therapy, skill seminars, and more. McCarthy said the budget implication of its services are not black and white, as it varies year-to-year based on the number of students in the program and their particular needs.

McCarthy will continue to look for areas of improvement on Jan. 25 when she will make a presentation with the Chappaqua PTA. She will be inviting educators and formers students to share their thoughts and what works, what does not work and what they would like to see in the program.

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