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‘Big shift’ in special education strategy outlined for Batavia School District

BATAVIA – The Batavia School District’s director of special education on Tuesday outlined what she termed “a big shift” in strategy toward integrating middle school students with disabilities into the classroom.

“Starting in September, special education teachers at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels will move from a ‘team’ approach to a ‘content area’ approach, which will target more meaningful professional development opportunities and (create) a different focus where they can become experts in that field,” Trisha Finnigan said during the Board of Education meeting.

Finnigan said special education teachers will provide support to students through core-content areas of science, math, social studies and English, and will stay with the same students from sixth through eighth grades to develop “a deeper connection with the student and his or her family.”

“It may seem like a small shift, but it’s actually a big shift,” said Finnigan, who added that special education teachers will take on a dual role of both teacher and consultant – the latter when the student is placed into mainstream classrooms.

Finnigan said that most students with disabilities split time, in varying degrees, in “self-contained” classrooms and in classes with the general population.

She shared statistics from 2014-15 that showedthat 80 percent of Batavia’s students with disabilities spent more time in the regular classroom – 64.7 percent of the time – than the state average, which was 58 percent of the time.

“More importantly, only 1.8 percent of our students with disabilities spent all of their time in separate settings, which is less than the state average of 5.9 percent,” she said.

Finnigan said that special education and general education teachers will continue to monitor students’ social and emotional progress as they transition to the high school.

In other action, the board:

• Welcomed Amy Burnham, who recently was promoted to assistant principal at Batavia High School, where she had been a mathematics teacher and special assignment math coach. Burnham replaces Jeffrey McKinney, who accepted the position of instructional technology coordinator.

“We’re going back to two full-time assistants at the high school to better support the curriculum, the students and our programming,” said Scott M. Wilson, high school principal, who said Burnham will work with Nathan Korzelius.

An Attica resident, Burnham has taught in the district since 2003, with the last three years as a leader of the math department. As the math coach, she devoted much of her time working with teachers on best practices as they relate to the Common Core curriculum.

• Voted to provide $3,000 toward expenses of the high school’s Scholastic Bowl team, which is competing in the 34th annual National Academic Championship in Alexandria, Va., from June 3-5. The team of six students will be making its second straight trip to the contest.

• Voted to support the City of Batavia’s innovative law providing tax incentives to homeowners who renovate and live in vacant and abandoned single-family homes.