Student Services in Chinook School Division maintains support for youngsters after restructuring changes made
The Chinook School Division’s Student Services program has been able to maintain service levels despite a restructuring that changed staffing levels.
Superintendent of Learning Bob Vavra provided details during the presentation of the Special Education and Student Services monitoring report at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, June 11.
“We've just changed our processes and we’re being more systematic with our service delivery,” he said. “We've actually been able to maintain service levels of the past.”
As a result of budgetary constraints, the staffing changes at the Special Education and Student Services program included a loss of one psychologist, one speech and language pathologist, and one occupational therapists.
“So we had to create new systems and structures to make up for that reduction,” he said. “Our main goal was to not reduce service for students and not having students fall through the cracks and I think we've been really good this year in not having that happen.”
The purpose of the program is to provide specialized services to students who need more assistance than what is available in classrooms.
The program provided specialized supports to 134 students during the 201718 school year. Students will have inclusion and intervention plans (IIP) and Student Services will monitor the implementation of IIP’s and behavioural plans during the year.
A new cluster model was implemented to maintain previous support levels. The school division has been divided into three clusters and for each one there is a coordinator, a psychologist and speech and language pathologist. Students Services now only has one occupational therapist, who provides support for all three clusters.
There are 8.8 FTE (full-time equivalent) counsellors, of which two are allocated to each cluster and one to the Swift Current Comprehensive High School, while some counsellor time is also allocated to Maverick and CAMPS School.
“I'm actually really pleasantly surprised,” Vavra mentioned. “The changes we've made have worked really well. We've reduced some staff, but we've worked a little bit more systematically and with a little bit more efficiency and I think it has counterbalanced that and it's been a very good year for supporting kids.”
Student Services implemented various other changes to improve the effectiveness of program delivery to students. In the past there were divisionwide support teams for autism, anxiety and behaviour, but they found the need was just too big and it was not effective to have a team travelling all over the division. Staff were therefore trained in each cluster and these cluster teams are now providing support to schools in their area.
“It's worked really good and so when we do have a family come in or something that we weren't prepared for in the past, now we really have those people in the cluster,” he said. “They can get out there really quickly and meet the needs of those students.”
The school division has established a good working relationship with the Autism Partnership in Calgary, and expert group that is providing additional support in a cost-effective way through the use of technology.
“We get permission from the parents to video tape students and we can send them the video tape of what the kids are doing and they can support us very cost effective,” he said. “So within a couple of hours using video or technology, we could get some answers and support really quick for kids.”
Student Services used Teacher Assistance Teams (TAT) during the last few years to provide support for teachers who have students who require additional assistance.
“What we've done this year is we've tried to connect using technology,” he said. “So instead of driving to Val Marie or Consul for half and hour meeting and spending lots of time on the road, we can connect through technology, be part of the meetings, communicate just like we would in the past, but we're saving huge windshield time. So that's worked really well this year.”
The speech and language pathologists are also using technology to deliver the necessary support to students without the need to drive out to a school.
“The technology is so good that the activities they can do are very similar to the activities that they would do face to face,” he said. “So we could deliver a half an hour block to a student. Sometimes it would take three or four times that amount of time if you were to drive there and back.”
However, there is still a need for personal contact with students during assessments and staff will then visit the schools for those type of interactions.
Another change has been the proactive use of reading level data to identify Grade 3 and 9 students who might require additional support.
“This is the first year we've done that,” he noted. “We targeted kids based on their reading assessments and that went over very well. … So just by working a little bit smarter and more systematically, we're able to do more assessments with less people.”
Vavra believes the way forward for Student Services is to continue to review their approach and to use technology even more effectively.
“Our work will have to be more systemic to support students that need it the most,” he said. “We've tried to do that and I think we've done a really good job, but we can always do better.”