The ODE began by looking at district test scores across the state and identifying those with significant gains from 2004 through 2008. According to communications sent to the school by the study, New Boston displayed a 28.32 percent net gain in special education reading scores and a 30.8 percent net gain in math.
“That is such a rare, rare thing, and we are the only district in southeastern Ohio to do it. Most are in northeast or southwest Ohio, and only two of the 30 are in central Ohio,” New Boston Superintendent Mike Staggs said. “To say that we’ve done that with the resources that we have, because we don’t come from an affluent area that can spend a lot of money on kids — is quite an accomplishment for (our teachers).”
After having been identified by the ODE, the schools were each asked to participate in interviews to determine what they have been doing that has proven so successful. The ODE will be joined by these 30 districts at the statewide special education conference in Columbus, in October, to present the findings of this study.
“Our major findings were that students that are on Individualized Educational Plans have access to the general curriculum. It’s not a separate education,” Lead ODE Researcher Candi Hazelwood said. “There isn’t an exclusion of special ed. It’s how to make it one system.”
One example of this at New Boston is their full-inclusion classrooms, where special education students are in classes with everyone else, and are not pulled aside into their own class.
Just as students work together, so too are teachers at New Boston school. Though separated by three building, the district has improved its communication and cooperation to help prepare themselves for when they’re all under one roof in the new Pre-K through 12 school building opening in 2012.
“I think the collaboration with teachers — so I don’t have to be in every room with every student — has really helped,” Christina Logan, intervention specialist for grades 7-12. “The building of that collaboration among staff has benefitted our students to improve their overall performance in the classroom.”
Teachers at New Boston enjoy watching their students improve. Like Joey Hacker, an intervention tudor from Oak School, who remembers working one-on-one with a fourth-grade student who had reading difficulties. Today, he said, the student enjoys reading books about animals, science and vehicles.
“If he could, it would be everything about wrestling,” Hacker said with a smile.
Working with high school students, Logan said she also enjoys watching students do better and feels proud when she sees them graduate.
“We’ve been very fortunate in this district, because our graduation rate is at 100 percent, and our students with special needs are among those. I have them come back to me after they’ve graduated and tell me they’ve started a trade school. Working with them and building up their self esteem and getting them to find out how they learn best is key,” she said.
There are tricks to getting a child interested in reading. Literacy Specialist Christy Dever said sometimes students just want to read magazines when teachers want them reading their textbooks, but she said reading of any kind should be encouraged.
“Let them read the magazine, if that’s what builds their self esteem. If they’re interested in that and they’re reading there’s going to be a time you can get them back to the lesson. First we want to keep their interest. Then we can go back and work on the other stuff,” she said. “When they have that smile on their face because they’re finally reading their first book. It just magnifies that feeling of confidence they have.”
The school also has received assistance from the Reading First grant which provides four teachers to the school, as well as a new reading series for grade K-3 and all new text books for grades 4-6. While teachers are rightfully proud of the accomplishments of their district, Chamberlin points out that it’s the students who should be most proud.
“Our children want to learn and they’re proud of what they do. I think as teachers and administrators, we feel happy about it, but they’re the ones that earned it,” she said.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.