2017-09-28 / Around Town

Special Ed Co-op Gets High Marks

By Christopher Allen

The Middletown School Committee held a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12 to accept an in-depth report on the state of the Newport County Regional Special Education Program (NCRSEP). NCRSEP is a special education cooperative for students in the towns of Little Compton, Tiverton and Middletown. Portsmouth withdrew from the program in 2016.

The report, commissioned by health and education firm Futures Education, by request of the member board of superintendents, concluded that NCRSEP deserves high marks for its successful programming and work culture.

“We are pleased with the findings,” said Sarah Kraeger, director of NCRSEP. “We have day-to-day data and observations that indicate we provide quality services while being fiscally responsible. The report certainly validates this.”

A summary that bookended the 36-page report stated that “NCRSEP provides relatively high-quality educational programs and services utilizing highly qualified staff.” Futures authors also concluded that the program is financially sound and that, based on the most recent audit, “no material weaknesses or deficiencies were identified.”

According to the findings, if member schools were to split up and create their own special education departments, or utilize private placement, the collective cost to the districts would approach $2 million annually.

The multi-pronged evaluation included site visits to all member districts, an analysis of financial data and interviews with teachers, administrators and district leadership. Educational documents related to IEPs (students with Individualized Educational Programs) were also reviewed. IEPs involve a specialized educational objective for students with disabilities.

In the finalized report, Futures Education focused their attention on three main areas, namely the quality of the programming, the fiscal health of NCRSEP, and recommendations that could improve the program in the future.

One metric, referred to as “least restrictive environment,” states that students with disabilities should spend at least 80 percent of the school day in a “general education environment.” All NCRSEP members exceeded the state target requiring 72 percent of students with disabilities to receive instruction alongside peers without disabilities, per the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act passed by Congress in 1975.

According to the study, NCRSEP’s students met or exceeded the state average in math and literacy by a significant margin. In Middletown, for example, 44 percent of students “approached, met or exceeded” state standards, well above the statewide average of 27 percent.

Futures Education had some recommendations for NCRSEP. These included an upgrade to the current website and a reorganization of the financial and administrative wings to help streamline the workload. Additionally, Futures recommended that NCRSEP change its legal status to a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization with member superintendents acting on a board of directors.

Looking forward, Kraeger says NCRSEP is open to additional school districts joining the cooperative. “We would definitely welcome other districts to the regional program,” she said, “or even share services with districts.”

In Other News

During its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 21, the Middletown School Committee: . Voted to send a letter to State Senators and Representatives regarding teacher union contract continuations. . Recognized Middletown High School’s new assistant principal Dennis Soares. In a speech thanking the committee, Soares spoke of his learn-by-doing approach to helping students achieve goals, and his belief in the “face-to-face conversation.”

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