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Locust Valley School District to expand integrated co-teaching program

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The Locust Valley School District is going to expand its integrated co-teaching program throughout the district next year, representatives announced during a Board of Education meeting on Feb. 11.

A pilot program of the technique has been active in ninth-grade classrooms this year, said Dr. Patricia Griffin, director of pupil personnel services. The Committee on Special Education has deemed it a success, she said, giving the district the go-ahead to put co-teachers in all classrooms containing students who require ICT.

Griffin, Anthony Davidson, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and Dean of Students Jennifer Masa presented a PowerPoint outlining the plan and how it will benefit the lives of students.

“Integrated co-teaching is an educational arrangement involving two licensed professionals with differing expertise,” Griffin said, “delivering substantial instruction to students with and without disabilities to meet the needs of all students in an inclusive classroom.”

Having two teachers in the classroom, Griffin said, helps all students, not just special education students, receive individualized lessons. She said most districts on Long Island implement ICT including Oyster Bay-East Norwich, North Shore, Jericho and Syosset.

“ICT really focuses on some of the aspects of our goals here,” Davidson said, “meeting needs of all students at their individual developmental levels, creating opportunities that are truly differentiated, giving every student the opportunity to grow and excel academically, plan for a successful future, and also, and probably most importantly, designing inclusive and equitable environments.”

Griffin said ICT is a part of the New York State Education Department’s continuum of special education. Of the five components of the continuum it is ranked third in terms of its restrictiveness. For any given student in need of special education, a component is chosen by teachers based on their observations of that student’s needs.

However, Masa said ICT is beneficial for all students, not only those in special education. By combining the expertise of two teachers, she said there is more structural support in the classroom and student-teacher interaction, as well as a general better understanding of assignments. Davidson said that the smaller group instruction also helps general education students by making lessons more intimate and open.

Additionally, ICT helps to eliminate the stigma associated with learning differences by normalizing them, and also enhances the ability of special education students to socialize and establish relationships.

“They have a sense of belonging,” Masa said. “They’re wanted in that classroom, and they belong in that classroom.”

Masa said ICT also greatly benefits teachers. She said the collaborative nature of co-teaching enables educators to improve efficiency of lessons and classroom management. This increased efficiency, Masa said, leads to more time to meet the academic and social needs of students.

Davidson said that according to state law, the district needs to provide the least restrictive environment for students as possible. He said special education teachers have specific training enabling them to know when to help a student and when to let them struggle. This helps students prepare for life after school, he said, and a teacher’s knowledge of when it is positive for a student to struggle can be crucial in their personal development.

“One of our goals is to move students as they go through a system, to a less restrictive environment,” Davidson said, “because when they leave the school, that is reality. They will not have some of those supports, so we have an obligation to help them to be able to become more and more independent as they move along, and ICT is a piece of that model that will enable us to do that.”

As a smaller district, Davidson said Locust Valley likely will not require ICT in all grade levels. He said the district will spend much of the remaining school year determining where ICT is needed and to hopefully implement it next year.