Noting that he has had "a lot of great conversations over the past few weeks," Youngsville Elementary Middle School Principal Eric Mineweaser said the school is "starting to make progress" in addressing concerns regarding the special education program.
Mineweaser spoke to the Warren County School District's board of directors' Curriculum, Instruction and Technology Committee, as well as approximately 40 parents of students from the school, on Monday night.
He began his presentation by giving current demographic information. Of the 584 students in the school, 105 are special education students.
Last year, the district made the decision to place all emotional and autistic support students at YEMS for the current school year. At the secondary level, a similar shift was made to Youngsville High School.
At YEMS, Mineweaser said that the emotional support program now has 36 students, a 21-student increase over last year. Of those 36, seven are from the Youngsville attendance area. The autistic support program also has seen a 17-student increase from 11 to 28. Of the total, 11 are from the Youngsville area.
"The difference between the past and this year is the additional students from the outlying areas," he said, noting that the school did receive two additional staff members to accommodate the increase.
The emotional support program is split into three classes K-4, 5-6, and 7-8.
The autistic support program is spilt on different grade levels K-2, 3-5 and 6-8.
Mineweaser said each class is staffed with one teacher and one paraprofessional but that the number of students in the classes throughout the day can vary. "A lot of the schedules are very unique to those students," he said.
Mineweaser also outlined the programs and offerings currently in place to assist with the unique needs of the students in these programs.
School-Based Behavioral Health, through Beacon Light Behavioral Health Systems, has been "a blessing to us the past two years. They have done a lot of great things in our building to de-escalate situations," said Mineweaser. While that program is limited to 14 participants currently, he said he is open to expanding the program to get some more support down there. He said the school-based team is particularly helpful with communicating with families. The Barber National Institute is also providing 10 hours per week of services in the district, mostly at YEMS and YHS.
YEMS also as a refocus room and, in more severe instances, a calming room with padded walls in which students can de-escalate.
Mineweaser said that the refocus room, new this year and staffed by a paraprofessional, has been used 754 times as of Jan. 31. "The goal is to get them immediately back into the classroom where they were," he said. "The Barber Center is able to tell us durations. We're tracking the duration of time they are in there."
The calming room, which he described as "the next step" has been used 87 times.
Mineweaser acknowledge the concerns of the community as seen in increased incidents so far this school year.
"I'm born and raised in that community," he said. "I understand the frustrations. I have two kids in that building as well. Safety; that's the number one priority."
He said that the staff heavily utilizes radios to communicate throughout the building and also created an on-call flow chart to ensure additional assistance comes in time of crisis. He also noted that a crisis team has been developed and that he and Shannon Yeager, assistant principal, are "doing the best we can to be visible."
As for police involvement at the school, he said, "Yes, there has been more issues regarding fights, assaults on staff members." According to his presentation, there were 500 disciplinary referrals at YEMS last year with special education students the subject of 35 percent. This year, there have already been 418 total with 237, or 56.7 percent, referred for special education students.
Mineweaser also addressed the concern that the students moved to YEMS could harm the school's standing in the state assessment mechanism, the School Performance Profile.
"Our goal at this point is to be sure we are showing growth," he said. "Will our School Performance Profile go down? Yes, I believe it will.... We are aware of that (but) confident we will be able to show growth. We're making progress and that is what we (want to) see."
He then offered four recommendations that were the result of his views and also feedback from the faculty and staff of the school. One would be bringing back an inter-therapeutic program that has been in place previously and another was bring on more staff. "That was a common theme when I was talking with my faculty and staff," he said of the desire for additional personnel. He said additional paraprofessionals are needed to assist with students who are mainstreaming in the regular education environment and also to assist in crisis management.
An additional recommendation was for another administrator or more special education supervisor time "so the staff and faculty have one person" to contact, he said. Lastly, he asked for additional professional development that is "consistent and sustainable. I would like to see something that is ongoing." Mental and behavioral health, strategies to deal with defiant work refusals and teaching multiple grade levels in the same classroom were the areas Mineweaser specifically mentioned for professional development.
He concluded his presentation by highlighting several "success stories" at YEMS, including students in these programs who are on the honor and merit rolls, as well as an emotional support student who has been nominated for student of the week. He also said that the number of restraints is down this year due to the use of the refocus room. Several students at the residential treatment facility in Youngsville who were unable to maintain last year can stay in the school the whole day this year and additional students are now on track for graduation.
The presentation is available on the district website, wcsdpa.org.