Proposed K-8 special education opportunity looks to replicate highly successful model for younger students
CASTLE ROCK – A K-8 special education school proposed by the Douglas County School District is being patterned after the highly successful Plum Creek Academy. If realized, the school will serve DCSD elementary and middle school students with significant emotional and behavioral needs.
“This school will benefit a targeted population that requires the most intensive level of services – more than we, as a District, currently are able to provide,” explained DCSD Chief Student Advocacy Officer Jason Germain. “Some of our students require specialized intervention that cannot be reasonably accommodated at neighborhood schools.”
Speaking about the proposal during the November 18 Board of Education meeting, Germain laid out a number of benefits that the K-8 special education opportunity would bring to the Douglas County School District, including:
- More effective, intensive and individualized services to K-8 students in a focused setting.
- Environmental accommodations that will enhance safety for students overall.
- Additional capacity for DCSD to respond to growth and demand moving forward.
- Expansion of the District’s continuum of programming.
- An ability to program for Douglas County students, who are currently have no in-District option to provide them the benefit of DCSD teaching and curriculum.
“This is about trying to meet the unique needs of a population of students, some of which are very discrepant from their peers, sometimes only temporarily,” Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen added. “We are trying to meet the needs of young children, providing them with early intervention and wrap-around services that their families want. It is this next level of service that will meet their needs, so they can successfully return, maybe even full-time to the classroom.”
The proposed school is expected to have a maximum enrollment of about 120 students, depending on the size and space of the facility it is placed. Currently, DCSD is looking at whether the soon-to-be-vacated Douglas County Libraries building at Main Street and Parker Road in Parker might work.
At this time nearly 30 DCSD students are sent to out-of-District options. It is believed that about 16 of those students, including Jessica Ansay, could be brought back to the District and served by our teachers, with our curriculum, if the new K-8 program was built.
“This K-8 school will help bring kids like Jessica back to Douglas County, which is where they belong and give them a quality education, which is what they deserve,” said DCSD parent Kari Ansay, during an April 2014 Board of Education presentation about the K-8 special education opportunity. “We need to set them up for every possible success. This is absolutely the way to do it.”
Ansay’s daughter required a far more structured environment than was available in her neighborhood school’s Significant Support Needs (SSN) special education program. After failing to make progress on her Individualized Education Program (IEP) over the course of three years, Jessica’s IEP team provided the option to attend a program outside of DCSD to meet her needs. According to Ms. Ansay, Jessica is making great progress, but they would like her back in Douglas County.
“Every child is capable of learning and it is our responsibility as parents and teachers to reach them and to teach them,” Ansay said. “If children can't learn the way we teach, then maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
Patterned off of Plum Creek Academy
The K-8 special education opportunity would be patterned from the successful model established at Plum Creek Academy (PCA) for similar students at the high school level.
PCA has a very experienced team of special educators that know how to work with students that have most significant emotional and behavioral needs, providing intensive services, when needed, so that the student can return to learning. The program brings services together, so that students do not just receive individualized instruction, but also have daily access to specialized strategies and treatment options to give them what they need, when they need it.
“It is kind of like the special forces of special needs schools. They know their job. They can anticipate what is coming. They are able to regroup and pull everyone back together and stay the course and accomplish the mission,” said PCA Parent Jeff Granato.
Additionally, data from PCA shows proves that the model is working.
“Plum Creek Academy is able to return students back to their neighborhood schools much quicker than our school-within-a-school model that we are currently using at the elementary and middle school level,” Germain said. “It is important to note that this program will not take the place of SSN programs District-wide. More often than not, our students who have significant support needs, do to require this intensive level of care.”
Parents who have seen the impact of PCA on their students say they wish similar program was available for younger children.
“I wish they would have had this program for my daughter who graduated Legend. She was in 3rd grade when we came to the district but there was nothing like this,” said PCA parent and DCSD teacher Lisa Coe.
“To be able to offer a school like Plum Creek for younger students at little or no cost may be the only chance some of these children to reach their maximum potential,” said Plum Creek teacher Peggy White. “Reaching these students as early as possible through these trained professionals is crucial to a child's success.”
K-8 special education opportunity will be a choice for special education parents
The proposed K-8 special education opportunity will be a choice for parents, just like Plum Creek Academy is a choice for high school parents.
“We would never force a young child or their family into a school or a place that they don't want. That is not a recipe for success,” explained Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen. “For those who are familiar with it, Plum Creek is not a place where children are sent or forced.”
In fact, there is always great demand for placement at PCA.
Just like the high school model, under the K-8 proposal, there will still be special education programs in Douglas County elementary and middle schools. While the most intensive of programs would migrate to the K-8 campus, the majority of special needs students will continue to be served by the same, outstanding teachers and educational assistants at the school-level.