TOWNSEND — From providing services for special-need students, to evaluating teachers and providing the newest technology, school districts have diverse responsibilities.
Students on the autism spectrum have difficulties with social thinking and executive planning skills. School systems teach these students the skills they need to function.
+STEPS is a program that works to help students develop these skills over the course of every school day.
Starting in late elementary school and into middle school, the deficits get bigger and bigger, said Taryn Bates, the +STEPS teacher at Nissitissit Middle School. She addressed the North Middlesex Regional School District School Committee Sept. 29.
Some of her students have incredible cognitive skills but cannot function as well as some of her students with lesser cognitive abilities who have better social and executive planning skills, she said.
The program at the middle school has evolved since 2010, when there were two teachers for four grades and included the language-based program.
Now, three special-needs teachers and five assistants help +STEPS students in the four grades. The students are split into tracks based on the difficulties they have with nonacademic skills.
Paraprofessional staff members help the students in the +STEPS program when they are included in the mainstream classrooms.
“That’s the hardest piece,” Bates said.
Beth Baldarelli teaches +STEPS at the high school. Her students are intellectually challenged in addition to having autism. They are with her six out of the eight blocks during the day.
“Explicit social skills are taught in a group of four gentlemen,” she said. “We have a great time.”
These grade 10 students are not all on a diploma track. “We have to look at activities of daily living,” she said.
The students go to Hannaford to learn to shop for a meal. They help prepare meals for homebound senior citizens each Monday and have started to help in the school store.
The district of 3,382 students has 637 students with individual education plans, said Linda Rakiey, director of special education.
An increasing number of students are on the autism spectrum.
“Our goal is independence, as much as possible,” Rakiey said. “It’s really exciting when you get into those classrooms and see the good work that’s happening.”
At the high school, the emphasis is on improving instruction. Teams have already observed each teacher in the classroom three times and provided feedback, said high school Principal Isaac Taylor.
The observations and opportunities for teachers to work in teams are part of the school improvement plan implemented after the last New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation report, he said.
As part of the school improvement plan, meetings are kept to an absolute minimum on professional days, allowing teams of teachers more time for planning and developing curriculum assessments.
The technology available to staff and students in the district is improving, according to Jeremy Hamond, director of technology.
Almost all Windows-based computers now run Windows 7. The exceptions are a few older computers with educational games that will not run on the newer operating system.
Special-education students are using iPads, and general education students are using Chromebooks, a more cost effective platform, Hamond said.
Networking capabilities and Internet access are improving at all the buildings as demand grows. Within five years, each student and staff member will have two or three devices to connect to the system, he said.
The district is also working to expand the capacity of the Aspen system that provides a family and student portal to the schools.
In other news, Ashby Elementary School and Spaulding Memorial School now offer breakfast. The full cost is $1.25, reduced cost $.30. The bus schedule was not changed to accommodate the additional meal.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education notified North Middlesex that schools are required to provide the meals, said Superintendent Joan Landers.