LOUISIANA TAKES STEPS TOWARD NEW VISION FOR SPECIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

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Actions Follow Independent Review Calling for District to be Statewide Model of Excellence

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Louisiana Department of Education today outlined initial plans to redesign the state's Special School District (SSD) to be a model of excellence in serving students with disabilities. The plan of action, presented today to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), is in response to a recently conducted independent review of the SSD, which called for a new vision for the district. Among the immediate actions, the state will:

  • Redesign the position of SSD Superintendent. The role of Superintendent will be redesigned to focus on developing a statewide model of excellence in serving students who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, identified as having other low-incidence disabilities, or are participating in state-run behavior and mental health programs. The Department will launch a national search for a leader who has extensive experience in the education of students with low-incidence disabilities and is an expert in managing systemic change. This leader will be selected by the State Superintendent of Education after a series of public and private interviews.
  • Conduct an in-depth analysis of the SSD organizational and financial structure. A management consultancy with expertise will analyze the SSD's organizational structure and finances to provide a clear overview of the current landscape of the district to the new leader once he or she begins.
  • Prepare regular SSD updates for BESE. The new leader will create a new strategic plan for the district to become a statewide model of excellence and will present regular updates to BESE on the plan and on progress toward achieving its goals.

"With a new vision, the SSD can be a national leader in addressing the needs of some our most vulnerable learners," said State Superintendent John White. "Through partnerships with universities, adult services agencies, and business communities, this district has the potential not only to prepare our students for a healthy and prosperous life, but also to affirm for the rest of our state the potential of all students."

The SSD was established by the Louisiana State Legislature to provide education to students housed in state or privatized facilities and hospitals. The SSD oversees Louisiana's three special schools: the Louisiana School for the Deaf, the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired and the Louisiana Special Education Center. It also manages educational programs for eligible students enrolled in Office of Youth Development, Office of Behavioral Health, Office of Developmental Disabilities, Department of Public Safety and Corrections and privatized facilities across the state. 

 

The plan of action follows a recent external review of the three schools in the SSD. In July 2017, the Department, concerned with low student outcomes and opportunities, released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an external evaluator to review each school and provide recommendations on how each school could become a model of excellence in the state. In October 2017, BESE approved a contract between the Department and nationally recognized organization Education Development Center, Inc.

Education Development Center, working with subcontracted experts from the American School for the Deaf, the Perkins School for the Blind, and the Cotting School, visited each site, conducted interviews and focus groups, reviewed current and historical data for the schools, and looked to national academic models that could be implemented in Louisiana. These efforts resulted in a 17-page report of findings and recommendations for improvement.

Among the recommendations, the reviewers suggested the SSD: 

  • Hire leaders who have the appropriate levels of expertise;
  • Organize the district so that decisions related to operations reside at the district level and decisions related to instruction occur at the school level;
  • Allocate resources strategically;
  • Create and implement staff recruitment and retention plans;
  • Provide districtwide supports to guide and build transition services, student independence and self-advocacy, residential and school connections, security and emergency response, and professional school culture; and
  • Maintain high academic standards and opportunities for all students to participate in them.

"Our team is honored to have been part of this work. We would not have applied for the RFP if we didn't recognize the potential impact this work could have on the students in Louisiana," said Education Development Center Executive Director Lauren Katzman. "With the right structures and partnerships in place, the SSD could be viewed across the nation as a model of excellence in providing supports and services for students with low-incidence disabilities in these three schools and across an entire state."

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