Meet the Frontline Staff for DCPS Students at Non-Public Schools 

March 29, 2011

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For the more than 2,000 District of Columbia Public Schools students attending Non-Public schools, the DCPS progress monitors play a major role in making sure that students are supported by DCPS, and in regularly engaging and interacting with their parents and families.

Progress monitors have similar job responsibilities as special education coordinators at DCPS schools. They manage a caseload of students with Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, which identify the supports and services that students will receive to get the most out of their education.

Over the past few years, the Non-Public team has changed dramatically to better serve its students and families.

To ensure that the team can meet the needs of students and parents, the Non-Public team has a thorough screening and recruiting process, and ensures that all progress monitors understand IDEA, a federal law that ensures that children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

The least restrictive environment means a student in special education should be given the opportunity to learn alongside his non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible. This decision depends on the severity of a child’s disability and his or her level of need.

Over the past year, the Non-Public team has increased its efforts to engage with parents of DCPS students in Non-Public schools. Progress monitors mailed letters to parents to introduce themselves, and they hold monthly office hours for parents to just drop by to share their thoughts, concerns or goals for their children.

The Non-Public team also holds quarterly forums for parents to discuss their child’s progress and to answer any questions they may have about DCPS and their child’s Non-Public school.

“Parental involvement is essential because that is the students’ first source of acceptance and approval,” said Halima Odom, a progress monitor who works with 60 students in seven Non-Public schools.

“So when we have parents who are involved, engaged and who care, the structure is consistent because at home the expectations are the same as at school, and that’s how we get kids to own the plan we have laid out for them to be successful.”

The progress monitors communicate regularly with parents about their child’s progress, addressing issues such as truancy, learning in the least restrictive environment and making progress toward achieving IEP goals.

“Our job is to make sure that all the important stakeholders are involved,” said Ms. Odom. “I find it’s important to get everyone involved and make sure we are all on the same page. When we are inconsistent, it shows in the students’ performance.”

“Ultimately, I want the parents to understand what’s going on and the students to understand what’s going on with the special education process, what their disability is, why they are in special education, and to understand transition and what that looks like,” said Sharon Hong, a progress monitor who works with 60 students at three Non-Public schools and one early childhood center.

Two priorities for the Non-Public team are addressing truancy issues and ensuring that students are educated in the least restrictive environment, as required by federal law.

When it comes to truancy, the progress monitors know there is no one size fits all approach to ensuring that students with a history of unexcused absences attend school consistently.

For Ms. Hong, that means creating attendance contracts, which address a student’s reasons for being absent, and outline the measures that the student, family and staff will take to support the student’s improvement in attendance.

For one truant student, Ms. Odom says she found a program that she could partner with that would pick up and drop off the student each day to make sure he went to school when he left his house in the morning.

Whatever the necessary measure, progress monitors work with families and school staff to make sure everyone is accountable and understands each other’s concerns.

“When I first met with all of my students, I gave them two business cards – one for them and one for their parent. And I said, ‘Please call me.’ And I have gotten those calls,” said Ms. Odom.

The least restrictive environment for a student is a decision that is made with the parent, student and the rest of the IEP team. For some special education students, their least restrictive environment always will be a special education class or school.

For other special education students, as they start achieving their IEP goals, the IEP team may decide that their progress is significant enough to move them to a more inclusive environment or back to their neighborhood school.

“I explain that special education is an intervention and a tool to get them up to grade level” said Ms. Hong. “It’s more like looking at if the student could function in a combined general education setting. We have to look at where the student is, and whether the student has progressed enough to function in a less restrictive environment.”

The progress monitors encourage parents to contact them to discuss their child’s progress or ask any other questions that they may have. If you don’t know how to reach your child’s progress monitor, you can call (202) 442-4800 and ask to speak to a program manager for the Non-Public team.


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