01/20/11  The Plymouth School Board held a workshop meeting on Tuesday night to discuss proposed changes in the way that the corporation utilizes the services of JESSE (Joint Educational Services in Special Services).

The board voted unanimously at the first meeting of 2011 to hold a workshop monthly in order to have the needed time to delve into issues more deeply.

At one point, the Plymouth Corporation entertained the idea of pulling out of JESSE; but is now working on what they term “special education realignment. The Board of Directors of JESSE is made up of area superintendents from nine school systems. Schools included are: Argos, Culver, John Glenn, North Judson-San Pierre, Oregon-Davis, Plymouth, Triton, and Union-North United. Previously the Rochester Schools were a part of JESSE as well.

Plymouth Superintendent Daniel Tyree indicated that realignment of special education services is happening throughout the State of Indiana. He said, “Plymouth started with the philosophy that we should teach our own students.” Through the co-op, some students with special needs were transported to other schools in order to combine services. Tyree added that they value the importance of parental involvement, the accountability of Public Law 221, NCLB (No Child Left Behind), and graduation rates. New article 7 regulations concerning mainstreaming special education students into the classroom have also been a consideration.

Bob Wise, director of JESSE, said that Article 7 concerns the least restrictive environment for students. He added, “Trying to get kids into their home schools has always been one of (JESSE) initiatives.”

According to Wise and Assistant JESSE Director Linda Holland, the emphasis for the 2011-2012 school year is on having students return to their home schools. Starting with the 2012-2013 school year, consideration is being given to forming four PODS that will pair up schools to share services. Wise said the term POD is only a working title and they will be seeking another name for the process.

Following is the proposed POD pairings (except Plymouth that will stand alone): POD 1, Union-North/John Glenn; POD 2, Plymouth; Pod 3, Triton/Argos/Culver/; and POD 4, Knox, Oregon-Davis, North Judson. Wise said, “They are organized to keep transportation to a minimum so kids don’t spend so much time on a bus.”

Other considerations listed in a presentation by Tyree include the following: Legal compliance; grants/financial/ staff development; technical assistance and support; and shared services. Shared services could include VI/HI services, OT/PT services, alternative/therapeutic ED programs, transition services and school psychologists.

The Plymouth Board also learned of the consideration to hire a Director of Quality Education for Plymouth. According to Tyree, the person hired for that position would be responsible for special education grants, Title I Grant, Title 3 grant, migrant grant and high ability grant. Tyree indicated that those duties are currently the responsibility of the principals assigned to each area. A director would also oversee all programs, coordinate the curriculum at all levels and coordinate with POD directors for shared services and updates on law.

Tyree said all of the schools in the Plymouth system could share a psychologist, speech and hearing therapist, and an autism specialist. The various schools in the system would house other services such as needed self-contained classrooms.

According to Tyree, there are still a number of considerations yet to be determined including: Specific teachers, specific aides, a transition agreement, POD directors, specific shared services, an amended JESSE agreement, and the location of JESSE offices.

Tyree said, “Teachers teaching in Plymouth will continue to be teaching in Plymouth.”

Holland said parents of  students receiving special education services received a general letter on the proposed changes in January. IEP’s(Individual Education Plans) will be written at the end of the school year for the following year along with case conferences.

JESSE was first formed in 1973.

Plymouth School Board member Larry Pinkerton praised both JESSE and the school corporations for their proposed plan. He added, “It’s long overdue”.

Carol Anders Correspondent