Update for January 22, 2015

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New early reading intervention program to address dyslexia proposed at HISD

By Lewis H. Mathews
Anvil Herald Reporter

 

Hondo High School Director of Special Education Cynthia Gann updated the Hondo Independent School Board of Trustees about the district’s special education programs Monday. She included an overall summary of the current state of the program before informing the board of a plan to develop a new program to systematically identify struggling readers so that intervention efforts can begin at an earlier age.

Currently, 179 students are being served by Hondo ISD’s special education program. This is one more than last year and  eight more than in 2013. Gann broke down the demographics into the 13 federally-defined disabilities and by grade level.

Last year, 37 referrals for evaluation of students were  conducted with 73% qualifying for additional assistance.  So far this year, 14 referrals were made. Gann said that the majority of requests come in the spring semester so she expects the number of cases identified to continue to grow substantially.

Gann addressed the various sources of funding the district receives for her department. The largest, nearly $1.5 million, comes from the state and local budgets. She also outlined how the $416,743 of additional funds from the U.S. Department of Education administered Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are utilized.  The district also receives partial reimbursement for various expenses from Medicaid. Last year this came to $139,790.

The numerous programs already in place for physical and mental disabilities and emotional disturbances were briefly listed and staffing levels for each campus were given. Gann summarized the results of various accountability measures that are currently used to evaluate the special education programs. She noted, “There are a lot of districts, even around our area, that aren’t in such good standing.”

Gann admitted that, these positive evaluations aside, improvement was still possible in many areas, and she summarized the changes that had been instituted at the beginning of the current school year. A curriculum refocusing on writing skills was undertaken on each campus. New assessment tools and transitions tools were implemented. Better connections with outside support agencies were built. Additional staff training and increased parental involvement were touched upon.

Her update for the board concluded with a specific focus on dyslexia intervention.  

Dyslexia is a general term for various disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols. However, it has been shown not to affect general intelligence.

An audit of the program was completed last spring, with the assistance of Education Service Center, Region 20, and was found to be in compliance.

Currently, 67 students, or 3% of the population, have been identified as dyslexic. This year, 10 students have been tested and seven of those have qualified for additional help. This number includes two first grade students at Meyer Elementary.

Gann then listed two recommendations for improvement from the study that are being addressed. Targeted retraining of teachers and counselors conducting Child Study Team meetings to recognize characteristics of dyslexia was completed. The profiles of previously tested students are also being examined to ensure that prior phonics instruction did not mask a dyslexia diagnosis.

She then outlined a plan to evaluate and chose a new early reading intervention program for the district to identify more students with dyslexia at a younger age. Two programs that were mentioned specifically by name as being under consideration were those created by the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.

The plan calls for the various programs available to be reviewed over the next four weeks. One will be selected that best meets the district’s needs and presented to Dr. A’Lann Truelock, Hondo ISD superintendent, on Feb. 20. This plan will be brought to the school board in March, and if approved, developed as soon as possible.

When Gann finished her presentation, board member Mark Matthews asked a number of pointed questions. He began by saying that “I’m a parent of a dyslexic child. The data shows that there are a lot of dyslexic kids. Up to 20% –  10% for sure – need to have intervention. It makes a big difference.”

He then asked, “Was there a directive given to the Meyer campus not to test for dyslexia?”

“Never,” responded Gann.

Matthews said that he had been personally told that dyslexia testing isn’t done then. Other parents also told him they had received the same response to inquiries more recently. Even a month ago, a local doctor had been informed that testing isn’t done at Meyer when he submitted a recommendation.

“It wasn’t coming out of my office,” Gann declared. “There is something that we need to be doing – I need to be doing – to make sure teachers don’t have that perception.”

Matthews interjected, “Identification by eight years old is key. It has to be done.”

“I totally understand,” Gann said. “I’ve got some work to do. (Testing isn’t done at Meyer) should never be said. We need to stop that.”

“One of the reasons I am on this board is to get an exemplary dyslexia program because it makes a difference for these kids,” said Matthews.

Matthews and Gann then undertook a detailed discussion of early intervention programs, changes to the testing procedures and issues related to the need for more staffing to adequately cover all campuses. Matthews ended the discussion with a promise: “Let’s get a top notch program started. If you need the help, if we need the funds, if you need the support, I’m here.”

 

 

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