Aug. 18, 2005 More than 100 special education teachers, regular classroom teachers, administrators, counselors and others who work with special-needs students gathered this week at the Westin Resort and Villas on St. John for the Education Department's third annual "Improving Outcomes for Students with Disabilities" summer institute.
"We are trying to ensure we are in line with No Child Left Behind," Education Commissioner Noreen Michael told the Source on Thursday.
She said the No Child Left Behind act called for highly qualified teachers to teach special education students.
"We are providing the skills and tools for the teachers to work with," she said.
Acting state director for special education Carrie S. Johns said the aim is to include the children in all the school's activities in the least restrictive environment.
The territory has about 1,800 special education students.
The summer institute focused on reading comprehension, positive behavior supports and assistive technology. Its goal was to provide science-based research to help teachers reach the children.
The sessions covered a lot of ground, including how to deal with students who don't behave well in the classroom.
"There's one to 7 percent of the student body making most all the teachers in the school miserable," said Donna Kirkendoll, the positive behavior supports coordinator for the Alabama Education Department.
She was one of a half-dozen off-island professionals who led sessions on various subjects.
Kirkendoll told those in her session that they have to set rules in the first two days of school.
She said that sometimes solutions are easy. For example, she said at one Alabama school, students created chaos when they used the building's two sets of stairs to go both up and down. The school solved the problem by designating the east set of stairs as up as in the sun comes up in the east and the second set on the western side of the building as down.
"It eliminated the havoc," she said.
She said in another instance, she was called in to evaluate why a playground had discipline problems. She said it turned out the teachers were gathering under a tree. Kirkendoll said she told them to move around.
"It reduced discipline problems by 50 percent," she said.
She told those at her session that looking directly at the children was one of the most powerful things teachers can do to reduce discipline problems.
Kirkendoll had the several dozen people in her seminar assess how their school scored on various issues.
Several people said that at their school, the status of student behavior and management practices were not evaluated quarterly. One teacher said that while the status data was gathered, it was not shared with the staff.
The summer institute wraps up Friday.
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