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INDIANA: School board to implement new autism initiative

by on June 25, 2014 11:00 AM

A program to support students with autism, piloted this past school year in the Penns Manor School District, is on track to expand this fall at Indiana Area Junior High School.

The Indiana school board Monday agreed to begin development of an Autism Support Program for sixth- through eighth-grade students, most likely to begin in October, according to district Superintendent Dale Kirsch.

Enrollment would be limited to eight students.

The program is administered by the Armstrong-Indiana Intermediate Unit. ARIN Special Education Director Dave Norris said the program at Penns Manor brought together students who were new to the area or who were beginning their public school education.

The Penns Manor program included children in kindergarten through sixth grade, but will only accept K to 5 students in 2014-15.

After developing the 6 to 8 program in Indiana, Norris said, ARIN hopes to establish a class for ninth- through 12th-grade students with autism.

Because of the wide range of effects of autism, the students moving into the ARIN support program include some who have been enrolled in their local public schools and others who have attended outside programs.

“Autism is a spectrum disorder, it runs a broad range of skills and skill deficits,” Norris said. “Children with autism may be very successful and being mainstreamed in their public school, and it ranges to out-of-district placement.”

The autism support classroom at Indiana Area Junior High School will be run at first by ARIN employees. ARIN will provide necessary training to Indiana teachers who later will take part in the program.

Like the Penns Manor program, the class at Indiana will be targeted to autistic children in Indiana County.

“But given that the Indiana classroom is a little more centrally located, we could take students from Armstrong County into that program, if it was geographically feasible,” Norris said.

Consolidating the education for children with autism is expected to reduce costs by about 40 percent, mainly because third-party programs are very expensive.

But Norris said saving money is secondary.

“Folks want to focus on the money, but one of the real benefits to the children is that they stay in a public school, they stay with their typical peers and we see the most growth when they are in an inclusive setting,” Norris said. “I’m genuinely stunned at the level of success we have seen in our Penns Manor program and we’re looking to replicate that.

“It’s really just good education, and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

The program at Indiana would most likely start in October, Kirsch said, because of time needed for preparation and to promote the class to parents of children with autism in Indiana County.

In other business Monday, the Indiana school board:

• Hired Gregg Wilson as assistant principal of Indiana Area Junior High School, effective Aug. 4, at a prorated salary of $84,000. Wilson, who obtained his principal certification from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has been the assistant principal of Richland High School, near Johnstown, the past two years.

• Hired two secondary biology teachers: Emily Hixson, at a Masters Step 1 salary of $62,105, and Jamie Edmonds, at the Instructional Step 1 salary of $48,000.

• Accepted the resignation of senior high French language teacher Katherine Schmidt, who has accepted other employment, and voted to post the vacancy and advertise for applications.

• Tabled a motion to hire Patrick Snyder as athletic director for 2014-15. Snyder, who retired from the district this month after serving many years as the athletic director, was proposed for the position under terms of an agreement with the district. Board members asked for clarification of the conditions in the agreement.

• Approved a package of eight insurance policies through the Reschini Agency at a cost of $282,869, a net reduction of more than $15,000 from the premiums paid for 2013-14. The worker’s compensation policy will be almost $22,000 less, while a package policy will be $6,500 more.

• Approved leaves of absence for Stephanie Polosky-Brilhart, a guidance counselor at Ben Franklin Elementary School, from Sept. 5 to Oct. 20, and for Beth Porter, an art teacher at Indiana Area Senior High School, from the start of the school year through Jan. 5.

• Appointed Matt Scaife, a special-education teacher, to work eight hours at per diem rates for the summer IDEAL program, and authorized workshop-rate compensation to unspecified employees for 24 hours of work on IDEAL course development for 2014-15.

• Increased the waiting period for long-term disability coverage from 45 to 90 days for the superintendent and other administrators covered by Act 93 agreements, effective July 1.

• On the recommendation of the buildings and grounds committee, approved four potential projects for the consulting architect, McKissick Associates Architects, of Harrisburg, to design and provide estimates for board consideration. The projects, including modernization of the senior high library and technology education rooms, replacement or modification of interior doors and modification of building entrances for security improvements, would be advertised for construction bids only after board review of the designs and estimates.

Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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