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Plum schools look to expand aid for special education students

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Superintendent Timothy Glasspool saw hiring two school psychologists as a plus for students.

“We want to provide additional and increased levels of personalized services to our growing special-education and gifted-education children and their families,” Glasspool said earlier this year.

Glasspool's plan is set to be put into motion this fall when Kelly Gibson and Dana Iera take more active roles in monitoring special-education students placed in programs both within and outside the district.

The Plum School District, with just under 4,000 students, has a special-education rate of nearly 11 percent or 425 students, said Kathleen Shirey, special-education supervisor.

“Plum's two school psychologists will be building liaisons for not only facilities within the district (but also) outside placement facilities,” Shirey told Plum School Board members during an education committee meeting last week.

The two replaced Dawn Andrews who retired in January.

Shirey said the plan is being put into motion, in part, by a state Department of Education audit of the district's special-education program that concluded Plum needs to improve in two areas — providing a least restrictive environment for special-education students as well as the dropout rate.

Shirey said providing a least restrictive environment means working to mainstream special-education students and keeping them in an environment with their peers.

Shirey said Gibson and Iera each will monitor the special-education students throughout the school year with telephone calls and on-site visits

“They will visit with the children and establish a connection with the families — have a relationship with the parents,” said Shirey who added that 46 special-education students attend programs at 14 outside facilities.

The dropout rate is another area Plum will work to improve, Shirey said.

According to data from the 2010-11 school year, the district's dropout rate for special-education students was 12.82 percent or five students, Shirey said.

Over the summer, the district's special-education team of teachers met to work on helping students make the transition into junior high and, subsequently, to the high school, she said.

Also, students will have the same special-education teachers in both ninth and 10th grades and 11th and 12th grades.

“We want to avoid some issues and get them to stay in school,” Shirey said.

The department also is working on a truancy elimination plan that will include a meeting with parents when a student registers three illegal absences.

Currently, four illegal absences results in a case being filed at Plum District Judge Linda Zucco's office.

“The team will meet with parents to get them to realize the impact of a child missing school,” Shirey said.

Shirey also said the district's school assistance program is being reformatted.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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