Program Strengths and Highlights
The North Allegheny School District Special Education Department is proud of its long-standing history of delivering a full continuum of services and programs to students. The District's goal is to design appropriate programs and services by facilitating collaborative efforts among parents, teachers, students, administrators, and other support personnel. Levels of intervention are based on student need and are determined by the IEP team.
The District collaborates with representatives from the community by way of the Parent Networking Group (PNG), the North Allegheny Parents for Gifted Education (NAPAGE), as well as the Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) to promote best practices in education. Maintaining challenging expectations for all learners while respecting the diverse characteristics of each individual is our priority. Responding to needs expressed by the various committees, the Department has presented a wide range of in-service programs to staff members and parents, purchased and implemented research-based reading programs, and invested in resources needed to promote students transitioning to adulthood.
Special Education Leadership Team
The Leadership Team is comprised of the following members: Director of Student Services, Coordinators of Special and Gifted Education, Master Teachers, Positive Behavior Support Specialists, and representatives from Social Workers and Transition Counselors. The Leadership Team assists the Special Education Department by facilitating compliance to state and federal regulations; planning and conducting special education department staff meetings; developing and coordinating District-based Extended School Year programs; collecting and interpreting data for various District and state reports; providing training for induction and staff development programs; participating in staff interviews and assignments; communicating changes in research-based practices and legal mandates to District administration; and representing the Special Education Department on a variety of District committees.
Master Teachers provide support to students, parents, and staff at all levels. Presently, five master teachers spend approximately forty percent of the day supporting the department through training, consultation, collaboration, and communication. Master Teachers provide support to District staff in a variety of ways. They assist with the development of special education paperwork and provide assistance to parents as their children transition between buildings, programs or become acclimated into the District.
Extended School Year
The District provides Extended School Year (ESY) services to qualifying students to ensure maintenance of IEP goals and objectives during a break in the school year. The District operates multiple programs that address student-specific needs as determined by the students’ IEP team. Elementary Summer Academy operates in one elementary building for students in grades 1-5 and is available for students in both regular education and special education. Half day sessions are provided for four weeks immediately following the end of the school year. The last two weeks of Summer Academy is designed to address targeted ESY goals, including academic, behavioral, and social skill deficits. Other District operated ESY programs include:
- Elementary Social Skills Camp. The overarching goals for this program are to maintain and promote positive social skills through activities and outings.
- Middle and High School Academic ESY. The overarching goal for this program is to maintain academic goals.
- Middle and High School Camp EXCEL. These programs emphasize promoting student self-regulation and self-monitoring of learned social and emotional skills as indicated in the students’ IEP. They incorporate positive behavior support strategies to foster growth and development.
- AS/LSS at each grade level. The overarching goals for these programs consist of maintaining functional communication skills; maintaining adaptive skills to include recreation, leisure, social and behavioral interactions; maintaining academic goal levels or enrich transition services as indicated in the students’ IEP. Programs are typically located in the school building the student attends during the school year.
The District also provides tutoring services for many students who require academic skill maintenance throughout the summer. Individualized goals and objectives are selected by the IEP team and materials are provided by Special Education teachers to provide consistency. Specific hours are determined by the IEP team based on student needs. Tutors are certified teacher and tutoring schedules are arranged between tutors and parents. Sessions are held at designated school sites or a public location (such as the library). Parents must agree to transport students to the public location option.
In addition to District-run programs, ESY services are provided by outside agencies, Intermediate Unit programs, and Approved Private Schools. Many programs are an extension of the students’ educational placement including Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind (WPSB), Children’s Institute, Pressley Ridge Day School, Wesley, and The Education Center at The Watson Institute. Tuition and transportation are provided by the District.
The Learning Support Program primarily serves students identified as having a specific learning disability, mild to moderate mental retardation, autism spectrum disorder, emotional disturbance, neurological impairment, and other health impairments. This program offers specially designed instruction, individualized learning goals and objectives, and quarterly monitoring of student's progress in attaining identified goals and objectives. The students in the Learning Support program are offered a continuum of services beginning with the least restrictive environment. This range of services includes itinerant support in a general education class where special education and general education teachers work cooperatively and collaboratively to enhance the performance of eligible students. Supplemental support is provided to students who require direct instruction for the goals and objectives outlined in their Individualized Educational Program (IEP). The Learning Support teachers implement research-based, specially-designed instructional strategies and techniques while following the North Allegheny curriculum. Learning Support teachers also develop and monitor accommodations and modifications to the general education curriculum while teaching compensatory skills to increase each student’s independence. If a student in the Learning Support program demonstrates behaviors that interfere with his/her learning or the learning of others, the Learning Support teacher will coordinate the development of a Positive Behavior Support Plan (PBSP) as part of the IEP. Currently, there are Learning Support classrooms in every building within the District. Every attempt is made to place each student in the least restrictive environment and maximize participation in the general education curriculum with the use of supplementary aids and services to the maximum extent appropriate.
Students may receive direct instruction for Reading, English, and Math in the Learning Support classrooms. Adaptations and/or alternative curriculums are developed for content area and special area subjects within the general education environment. Students may also receive related services, including but not limited to Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Vision Support, Hearing Support, Social Work services, Nursing services, and behavioral supports. These services are implemented in a variety of settings such as general education classes, Learning Support classrooms, and vocational or community-based settings. Student goals and objectives are integrated into all curricular areas throughout the school day.
The District operates Emotional Support classrooms located at McKnight Elementary School, Ingomar Middle School, North Allegheny Intermediate High School, and North Allegheny Senior High School. The Emotional Support Program provides special education services for students with mental health or behavioral needs that impede a student's ability to progress through the curriculum. Students are expected to be responsible problem solvers who must not only consider their needs in a given situation but also the needs and responsibilities of others. Classroom teachers, parents, administrators, special education paraprofessionals, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other contracted service providers work as a team to support students as they attempt to better understand their capabilities and achieve their maximum potential. The service delivery model is designed to support students by developing and monitoring individual Positive Behavior Support Plans (PBSP) and assisting with academic deficits and demands. Positive Behavior Support Plans (PBSP) and Social Work services are an integral component of Emotional Support. The Social Workers act as a liaison between mental health agencies and the school; provide support to families; offer strategies to teachers; and provide direct services to students through individual counseling, social skills groups, and collaboration with teachers. The Social Workers conduct observations in a variety of educational environments; serve as a conduit for parent communication through phone conferences, scheduled meetings, and home visits; working to connect families with vital community resources.
Individual and classroom behavior management systems are used to provide students with a range of support. Information gathered from the Functional Behavioral Assessment is included in the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance as an integral part of the IEP process. School-based teams utilize assessment data to develop short term interventions consisting of prevention strategies, replacement skills, and consequences for both the behavior of concern and the replacement behavior. The team also identifies the measurable annual goal(s) for decreasing the behavior of concern and increasing the replacement behavior.
The Collaborative Review of Educational Progress is a building level meeting of the emotional support teacher, social worker, building administrator, school counselor, and other appropriate staff where important information can be shared as it relates to specific students with emotional support needs. During the review, participants examine academic progress, identify social/emotional/behavioral concerns, review data from the classroom management system, explore in-school support services, and update discipline-related interactions. The goal of these meetings is to determine a plan of action to maximize the student’s progress and adjustment, and review/revise the Positive Behavior Support Plan (PBSP) to reflect the student’s current behavioral needs. Students are typically reviewed on a monthly basis.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Support
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Support classrooms are operated by the District at Peebles Elementary School, Carson Middle School, North Allegheny Intermediate High School, and North Allegheny Senior High School. Interpreters and audiological services continue to be provided as needed for all students in the program under contract with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.
The Total Communication approach provides the foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Support Program. Sign language, oral communication, speech reading, and auditory training are utilized in all classrooms. These are essential links for the students’ success within the general education curriculum, as well as social interaction with peers and adults. The teams work with families to develop the Communication Plan incorporating the major mode of communication for each student. North Allegheny providers, in conjunction with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, monitor the assistive technology available to students in this program and explore options for emerging technology.
Speech and Language Support
Speech and Language Pathologists (SLP) provide specially designed instruction to students when a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, language impairment, or voice impairment, is present and adversely affects the student's educational performance. Service delivery options include direct, individual or small group therapy, as well as therapy within the classroom or on a consultative basis. Remediation may be provided in the form of a home practice program, classroom instruction, or small group instruction. Students making adequate progress using this model will continue until age-appropriate levels are reached. Students who are not making adequate progress using this model or have more complex needs, are evaluated to determine if they meet the eligibility requirement as a student with a Speech and Language Impairment and need specially designed instruction.
The SLPs provide information to school-based teams and families about relevant communication issues, assist in transitioning students receiving early intervention services to school-age programs before entering kindergarten, monitor assistive communication devices, and train staff to implement the devices in general education classrooms. The Speech and Language staff assesses students' needs in the area of assistive technology. Recommendations may include low or high technology strategies and materials and/or communication devices. The SLPs also partner with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit when further assistive technology is needed.
Life Skills Support
Life Skills Support classrooms are available for students who require intensive support to address functional academics, socialization/communication, daily living skills, behavioral supports, vocational skills, and transition to adult life. Goals are individualized and center on increased independence and generalization of learned skills. Opportunities for inclusion in general education environments are provided as determined by the IEP Team. The Life Skills classroom is available to students with the most significant cognitive, communication, and behavioral needs.
Autistic Support classrooms are available for students who require a highly structured program and addresses needs related to reciprocal social interactions, communication, and restricted and/or repetitive stereotypical patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Opportunities for inclusion in general education environments are provided as determined by the IEP team. The students require intensive interventions such as visual communication systems, highly individualized instruction and schedules, functional academics, basic daily living skills, and individualized behavior management programs. The goal for all students with moderate to severe disabilities is to increase independence and self-sufficiency.
Career Development and Transition
The District maintains Transition Coordinators through the School Counseling Department who work with teams to develop appropriate Transition Plans for all students ages 14 and older. Resources and linkages for families are provided through the Transition Plan of each IEP. Transition Portfolios are maintained for students in grades 9-12 to track transition activities and vocational assessments.
North Allegheny invested in the Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) which assess a student's competitive work potential and interest level, while simultaneously exploring various jobs using real tools and developing proper work behaviors in the following five areas: Computer Technology, Construction/Industrial, Processing/Production, Consumer/Service, and Business/Marketing. PAES develops basic skills needed and used in community-based transition programs and teaches proper behaviors on the job.
Career exploration experiences are also provided that include in-school work experience, job shadowing, job sampling, volunteer opportunities, and paid community work experiences. This process is determined by the student’s job readiness, including interest, ability, and competence. The determination for job programming is based on academic skills, emotional and behavioral maturity, in-house assessment, and community-based assessment. The District has developed opportunities to introduce students to the world of business through our Tiger Shop and Tiger Den programs in the high school buildings. By emphasizing cooperation between students with disabilities and their peers, these programs provide students with opportunities to develop job skills such as work ethic, teamwork, communication, and social and academic skills through on the job practical experiences. Targeted areas include public relations/writing (promoting the businesses), reading/math (following a schedule, data entry, inventory, and ordering), and management (job evaluation and scheduling). The goal of Transition Services is for students to easily progress into Post-Secondary Education, Employment, and Independent Living.
Special Education Assistant
Many students with moderate to severe disabilities attend their home school. The IEP Team meets to determine the level of Special Education Assistant support that may be needed in order for each student to access and progress in the general education curriculum. Each paraprofessional employed by North Allegheny School District has met the state regulated "Highly Qualified" (HQ) status. To achieve the "Highly Qualified" status, a Special Education Assistant must meet one of the following criteria:
- An Associate degree; or
- Forty-eight (48) hours of post-secondary education; or
- A certificate of satisfactory completion of a State-approved assessment.
The District provides the mandated twenty hours of training through in-service days and Act 80 Days in the District calendar. Each Para-professional in-service is carefully designed to provide training that addresses students' needs or programs that Special Education Assistants support.
Research-Based Reading Programs
The explicit instruction of comprehension strategies in grades K-12 will be consistently integrated as well as the utilization of a research-based, systematic, and explicit approach for providing reading support and targeted intervention for qualifying students. An early intervention literacy program will continue to be provided grounded in the tenets of Research-Based Instruction (RBI) for reading in grades K-5 that includes: phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary.
Reading Mastery was piloted over two years and adopted in our Elementary buildings. The program is designed to provide systematic reading instruction: K-1 (phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, decodable text, fluency, spelling, vocabulary and language, comprehension); 2-3 (word analysis, vocabulary development, background passages with emphasis on content). Reading Mastery is being utilized as a supplement to the core reading program. Reading Mastery uses the Direct Instruction method to help students master essential decoding and comprehension skills. The program emphasizes teaching thinking skills and helping students acquire background knowledge. Program materials guide teachers through carefully constructed instructional steps-modeling new content, providing guided practice, offering individualized practice, and applying skills. The program also utilizes a special orthography designed to assist students in identifying letter sounds.
Corrective Reading and Reading Success published by McGraw Hill will be introduced at the middle school level during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Corrective Reading promotes reading accuracy (decoding) and fluency of students in grades 4–12 who are reading below grade level. The program includes four sequential levels that address decoding. The levels are designed to target students who need assistance with specific types of reading skills based on the results of the Corrective Reading placement test. This will be used as a replacement for Core Instruction at the middle school level.
Reading Success is a supplemental reading intervention program used to dramatically improve students’ ability to understand what they read. This will be used as a supplemental resource for core instruction at the middle school level. This resource will be introduced at the high school level during the 2020-2021 school year.
For over 25 years, the North Allegheny professional development opportunities have evolved and changed based on the training needs of the staff. The District identifies the Special Education staff needs through surveys sent by the Office of Curriculum, Assessment and Professional Development; evaluations from professional development days; evaluations from the Chapter 14 Committee meetings; recommendations from District Curriculum Review Committee; recommendations from Special Education Leadership Team; recommendations from administrators; and input from representatives of various District groups. The Director of Student Services and a member of the Special Education Leadership Team represent the Special Education Department on the District's Professional Education Committee. This Committee develops the yearly in-service calendar for all District staff. Opportunities for professional development are provided as follows:
- Curriculum and Departmental In-service days (CADI)
- Training before, during, and after the school day
- Technical assistance provided by the Special Education Leadership Team, Coordinators of Special Education, Director of Pupil Services, School Psychologists, School Social Workers, or other members of the Pupil Services Support Team
- Release time to attend training offered by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3, Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), the Pennsylvania Department of Education, or related outside conferences