Partnering4SpecialEd brings savings, performance to San Mateo Featured Photo

Partnering4SpecialEd brings savings, performance to San Mateo

Tom Chorneau, Managing Editor
SI&A Cabinet Report

When administrators at the San Mateo-Foster City School District signed up a year ago for School Innovations & Advocacy’s Partnering4SpecialEd® - they knew the service would include expert analysis of the district’s growing encroachment problem as well as insight into improving conditions.

What they weren’t expecting was the SI&A team jumping in on day one to help the staff perform the preparation work – including the actual collection of necessary data.

“SI&A has been really supportive – that’s something I cannot overemphasize,” said Molly Barton, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services at San Mateo-Foster City Schools. “Last year when we were initially gathering the data, we were very shorthanded – we’d lost some people unexpectedly. They came in and helped collect it for us. That was huge.”

San Mateo-Foster City, located southeast of San Francisco, is a K-8 system serving close to 11,000 students at 16 elementary sites and four middle schools. About 9 percent of the district’s enrollment participates in a special education program that includes special day classes, resource specialist programs as well as designated instruction services such as speech and language.

Over time, Barton said, the district struggled in addressing several issues common throughout California. One was the disproportionate representation of racial and ethnic groups in special education; another was the over-identification of students with speech and language barriers. The district wanted to act before they eventually grew into serious problems. 

“We really wanted some help with outside eyes to look at our data,” she said. “That was really important to us.”

The SI&A team, led by Dr. Lee Funk – who has spent more than three decades in special education administration and instruction – engaged in a thorough review of the existing programs and operations. The team drew input from a variety of sources including an array of focus groups made up of teachers and service providers.

While deep and detailed, the effort was not a fiscal or compliance audit, but an examination of budgetary, staffing and programmatic efficiencies.

The review team completed its work in March, 2011.

“Our district has been able to save quite a bit of money, which translates into reducing encroachment to the general fund,” Barton said. “School Innovations & Advocacy shared some of the initial data a year ago, so we were able to implement some of the changes right away. So far we’ve been able to reduce the encroachment by $2.3 million – in one year.”

“That’s pretty remarkable,” she said.

Among the major findings was that the district had been over-identifying students with speech and language impairments. Simply identifying the problem led to a more consistent evaluation process supported by improved protocols and checklists.

SI&A also recommended the district more fully utilize the Response to Intervention model as a tool for early intervention and prevention of misidentification.

Barton said that overall, Partnering4SpecialEd has proven to be an extremely beneficial service – especially the company’s ongoing support through its maintenance program.

“I cannot emphasize how important it is to have non-biased outside eyes and that data collection,” she said. “And secondly, their willingness to sit down with me and our superintendent – for hours – to explain the report, it was eye-opening – the depth of the data. I would recommend it in a heartbeat.”

SI&A is now assisting the District with implementation by providing on-going analyses of trends and data. This partnership provides the district with support in setting benchmarks and monitoring progress as it moves forward in program improvement.

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