At the April 28 District 65 Board meeting, Joyce Bartz, director of special services, and a panel of supervisors in the special services department presented a proposal to increase the services provided to students with a disability. If approved, the proposal will increase the options for students who have significant needs and disabilities, and increase the continuum of services that is available.

District 65 began implementing the inclusion model on a phased-in basis five years ago. Under the model, more students with a disability are placed in general education classrooms than had been before.         

“I feel like we have been wildly successful in our inclusion effort, said Ms. Bartz. “Really through the work of the assistant superintendents, the principals and the special education and general education staff we have implemented really tight inclusion programming that has taken a tremendous amount of work and commitment on the staff’s part to make this happen. We have been commended by Project Choices, which is the technical assistance branch of the Illinois State Board of Education for inclusion,” she said.

In explaining the need to increase service options, Ms. Bartz said, “We see there’s an increase in the mental health issues that we see with our students. We’ve certainly seen an increase in the hospitalizations of our kids in the last two years. We see more students on the autism spectrum, and … an increase in the number of homeless students. Some of these students are very fragile people.

“What we have come to see,” Ms. Bartz continued, “is that we have to provide additional supports to children who might need a smaller setting or might need more attention in programming.”

Michelle Brand, a supervisor, said one proposal is to add five instructional classrooms that would provide a “more highly structured program” for students than could be provided to them in the general education classroom. A special education teacher will staff each classroom and tailor instruction to their individual needs and particular learning style, and work with students to develop strategies to cope and deal with some emotional needs. The classrooms would provide a quieter setting with less visual distraction than a general education classroom.

One classroom is proposed for Haven, one for Nichols, and three for the elementary schools. Specific elementary schools have not yet been identified. Each classroom would serve approximately 8 to 10 students, with a range of disabilities.

“We’re working on developing very tight entry and exit criteria,” said Ms. Brand.

Stephanie Reynolds, supervisor, said a second proposal is to create a student support center in the middle schools. She said the centers would be staffed the entire day by different teachers or social workers and provide support to students who are transitioning back to school from a hospitalization or an outside program. In addition, students who are experiencing anxiety and need to leave the general education classroom could go to the center as a safe place.

Ms. Bartz said the support center would provide both academic and emotional support and be similar to what is used in other suburbs. 

At the elementary school level, the student support centers would provide a space for students who need a more specific behavior intervention or crisis plan. They would also provide space where staff could support students in doing academic work or to process with a student.

Ms. Bartz told the RoundTable they are planning to have a support center in each of the schools so the District can provide a continuum of services or different levels of support for all students. The hope is to be able to staff the support centers by scheduling current staff in a different way.

Shalema Blue, supervisor, outlined a proposal to provide professional development in certain areas. Paul Perry, RIT Coordinator and supervisor, summarized the need for new classrooms and support centers.

Ms. Bartz said they would present a more formal proposal to the Board with additional details and the locations for the classrooms in May or June.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...