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School board to set direction for special ed plan

NCSD will also consider proposal for BMS athletic eligibility

On Monday the Newton Community School District board will have a new look. Board members Shari Benson and Andy Ebert will finish out their terms and newly elected members Graham Sullivan and Cody Muhs will step in to take their place. The board will also look at several other issues, including a review of the special education plan, and a new proposal that’ll change the way academic ineligibility is handled at Berg Middle School.

Administrators at NCSD have been working to set the direction of special education services in the district for the past two years. In a work session on Monday night prior to the school board meeting, they’ll present their findings to the board.

Superintendent Bob Callaghan said administrators have been collecting data from special education teachers in the district in order to build a more comprehensive plan that will better serve students. Administrators creating a listening post to gather input from teachers, and they’ve narrowed that input down into three primary priorities: time, resources and professionalism. By documenting teachers’ needs, Callaghan said administrators can narrow their focus to give teachers the tools they need to be successful in the classroom.

“We want to find out what we need to give our kids in special education to close the gap with their peers,” Callaghan said.

Part of the issue the district is facing is a deficit relating to special education costs. On Monday the district will ask the school board to approve a plan to move a negative balance of $389,147.62 from the 2016-2017 school year onto the budget for fiscal year 2019. It’s common for districts to run a negative balance for special education, according to Callaghan, because the costs commonly exceed the state’s allotment. In the 2016-2017 school year the district will receive $6,664 for each student, and the allotment is increased for special education students.

Special education students are divided into three groups, with students in level 1 receiving funding 1.72 times above the $6,664, level 2 at 2.21 and level 3 students 3.74. The levels are determined for each student with an Individualized Education Plan, which is updated every year by school administrators. Currently, there are more than 350 special education students in the district.

This additional funding helps, but Callaghan said that it doesn’t begin to cover all of the costs associated with special education. In past years the overage has run as high as $1.2 million, and under Callaghan’s watch, costs have been steadily decreasing. Last year, the district had a negative balance of $616,851 in special education.

“Our goal is not to run in the black, our goal is to serve these kids as close to possible to the funding that we receive,” Callaghan said.

NCSD administrators have reduced the shortfall by working towards greater efficiency, which is one of the goals of the special education plan that administrators have been developing.

“We’ve asked teachers for their input on what priorities they have, we want to find ways to help them meet their goals,” Callaghan said.

New plan proposed for BMS athletic eligibility

At Berg Middle School students also have goals to meet, and under a new plan developed by athletics director Steph Langstraat, those goals will be shifting. Langstraat will present a proposal to the board Monday that will change the way academic eligibility is handled at the middle school level for extracurricular activities.

Previously, Langstraat has reviewed grades for all students in extracurricular activities every week, and if a student was receiving a failing grade, they’d be suspended for the following week. Checking grades weekly is a lengthy process however, and Langstraat’s proposal would simplify the process. Negative feedback from parents about the current plan was also a factor in the change, Langstraat said.

Under the new plan, student grades would be checked at the midpoint of the quarter, which is Sept. 26. If they are failing a class, they’ll become ineligible for two weeks, and they’ll be required to attend two study hall sessions after school with Langstraat before they can return to practice. When the first quarter at Berg ends on Oct. 25, Langstraat will check the grades again. In practice, Langstraat will effectively be checking the grades on a monthly basis instead of a weekly basis.

In choosing to hold students out for only two weeks, Langstraat said she’s acknowledging middle school athletics seasons are often short, and she doesn’t want the proposal to feel like a punishment for students.

“We’re just trying to hold them accountable and give them an opportunity to fix things,” Langstraat said. “We want to troubleshoot the issues they’re having.”

While administrators are still waiting on full approval from the school board they have been quietly rolling out the change to parents and students. Coaches in all of the fall sports included the change in their pre-practice meetings to get the word out to parents, and feedback has been positive so far.

Teacher Darin Tisdale also coaches the 8th-grade football team. As he watched his team run through drills on the practice field Thursday night Tisdale said he’s heard nothing from good things about the new policy from parents. He’s a supporter of the plan, feeling it teaches kids to be responsible and helps prepare students to meet the challenges of high school.

“I think overall it’s a policy that holds kids accountable for academics first and athletics second,” Tisdale said.

Tisdale said he had several students on last year’s team who had to sit out for academic issues, and he’s hoping this system will give students more time to address the issues they’re facing in the classroom. He hasn’t heard any negative feedback from parents yet about the new plan, but since the first grade check hasn’t taken place, students have yet to face any negative consequences.

“We want to help parents keep kids accountable,” Tisdale said. “We want to keep an eye on what’s going on in the classroom.”

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or

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