BEMIDJI -- In the face of a growing need among students, administrators at Bemidji Area Schools are taking another look at how they handle special education services.
Special Education Director Lexi Wilde gave a presentation to the Bemidji School Board on Tuesday morning, explaining what changes they have started to make and what strategies they plan to implement to further the department's goals.
Wilde took over the role of special education director in August 2018 and spent the year getting a pulse on the position. Of the 5,230 students in the district, more than 1,000 are in special education. Not only does that number represent roughly 20 percent of the student body, but it’s also a figure that has grown nearly 13 percent over the past seven years.
"We're already making change, and we're already being able to implement some things that we haven't had before," Wilde said.
Wilde described a number of strategies for how they plan to help the department reach its goals, focusing on issues such as workforce development, among others.
As part of workforce development, the district hired a special education coordinator, Tiffany Palmer, to help Wilde lead the department. Palmer was at the meeting Tuesday and helped Wilde give the presentation to the board members. Palmer has been working in the district in various roles for two decades.
Palmer will specifically help in the areas of early childhood special education, which includes children up to five years old; transitional services; and some of the district’s alternative programs.
Also part of workforce development, Wilde said they need to help their educators and para-educators achieve their own educational goals. Wilde said 47 percent of the district’s special education staff is not fully licensed. With the help of a grant, the district is able to reimburse the tuition of teachers and para-educators who go on to further their education.
Aside from helping them pursue their own education, Wilde said they're working to provide more guidance to para-educators rather than simply throwing them into the position.
Wilde also spoke of the need to bolster the district’s special education compliance. An audit on the district during 2017-18 found it was out of compliance with its individual education plans and progress reporting. The department has been working to correct that. One way they've been doing that has been updating their special education manual so that educators have a source they can reference.
Wilde and Palmer also discussed the strategies they plan to implement to achieve their goals, such as curriculum writing, working with outside partners, creating a sense of community, and developing a consistent para-evaluation system.
Also during the meeting, Board Chairman Jeff Haack noted that Superintendent Tim Lutz would return soon enough that the board would not need to appoint an acting superintendent to fill his role.