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PALS September 2017 - Tim Mahoney Director of Special Education for FCASD

PALS Meeting Minutes

September 27, 2017 9:15 a.m.

Eat'n Park (meeting room)

1839 Freeport Road Pittsburgh, PA 15238

We welcomed newly appointed Director of Special Education for Fox Chapel School District, Tim Mahoney. According to the district biography on Tim, he was hired by the district in December 2016 as the vice-principal of Dorseyville Middle School and made his transition to the administrive offices over the summer upon former director Lonnie Carey's retirement.

Tim is a native of Philadelphia and moved to the Pittsburgh area with his wife after they graduated from college. The two have since built a life in the area as active members of the community and their family includes two children. Tim graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and special education certification from Lycoming College and completed a master's degree in special education supervision from Slippery Rock University and earned his principal's certification from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is currently pursuing his doctorate degree at the University of Pittsburgh.

Tim began his career working for The Watson Institute in Sewickley and Butler Area School District. Most recently, he was the RtII (Response to Instruction and Intervention)/MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) specialist and the special education department chairperson for students in grades 7-12 in the Pine-Richland School District. Tim worked to establish an effectie K-12 Rtll program that focused on data-based decision making for intervention.

Questions for Tim:

What got you into special education?

He was a member of an active peer tutoring team in high school. Time was unsure of a career path when entering college, but realized he had a passion for helping those with learning differences after taking multiple pyschology courses. It was by happenstance that he interviewed for The Watson Institute, when he received a call from a staff member who found a sticky note with just his phone number on her computer. Not knowing who she was calling, the conversation lead to his career path.

There tends to be a lack of social inclusion in the middle and high schools. What ideas do you have to increase the inclusion of special education students?

When Tim was at Pine-Richland, there was a peer support elective at the high school level. Currently, Dorseyville Middle has the Best Buddies program, and the high school has 300 students signed-up for the peer mentor program. Although things do not happen overnight, he hears the concerns of parents asking for more structured opportunities for all students to be included in activities.

There appears to be inequalty between Gifted Special Education students and Learning Challenged Special Education students. Specifically the difference between how the two are taught, with Gifted students having their own classroom and instructor. Why the difference?

Both groups of students have instructors who collabarate with the general education teacher (a student's primary teacher for elementary) or subject area teacher (middle and high school). Gifted students tend to be pulled out more often in elementary school. However there is a tiered (MTSS) support system in place for all special education students. Time described the two programs as "mirrored".

*Note: Students in gifted programs are a part of special education and do have an Individual Education Program (IEP).

How do you prevent the fact that a student has an Individual Education Program (IEP) from lowering the expectations of those charged with teaching the student?

The Education Benefit Review (EBR) measures the student's growth within the IEP. The purpose of the EBR is to determine if the current IEP for the student with learning challenges is reasonably calculated to receive educational benefit. It involves a full review of the goals set within the IEP and the data showing the child's progress or lack there of based on the goals.

Tim mentioned that while he is not a fan of standardized tests, the benchmarks the testing provides can be used to determine if a student is making appropriate progress. (a year's worth of progress from year-to-year). He values the STAR assessment as it provides educators the ability to look a student progress multiple times within the school year without interfering with instruction time.

* This sparked a comment about recent graduates getting well above average passing grades in high school academic subjects yet being unable to complete the academic course work at CCAC. See our previous conversation about this here.

What will be different in your tenure as Director of Special Education? What do you see as an area you want to work on?

He sees himself as a straight shooter, a transparent leader who will be forthcoming. He works within the guidelines set forth by the state and federal government. Tim sees parents as the biggest resources for student achievement. He is currently looking at where the district is and where it needs to be. He knows that sweeping changes will not provide the results necessary for student growth.

Will there be Parent Trainings offered by the district this year?

He is working on Parent Trainings. The district is taking a look at Title I funding to provide trainings.

Who are the LEA (Local Educational Agency) Representatives of the district?

Tim is the LEA Representative for the district. School principals are the LEA Representatives for their individual schools with the vice-principals being the alternative LEA Representatives.

*An LEA Representative must be present during an IEP meeting and is the person who can make decisions on providing services. An LEA Representative who indicates they must discuss something with someone else before making a decision, is NOT an LEA Representative. The U.S. Department of Education defines a Local Educational Agency as a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or for a combination of school districts or counties that is recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.

What do you want us to take away from this meeting?

Tim is interested in creating a system to support students as much as possible. Collabaration with teachers and parents is essential in this plan. There are things in place that need to see growth and new items that need to be put in place. Teacher training is a part of this plan. Tim is supporative of PALS efforts and is looking foward to collaborating with PALS.

Next Meeting: October 25, 2017, 9:15 a.m. Roots of Faith 800 Main Street Sharpsburg, PA 15215

Topic: Executive Functioning: What is it and how to address it in your child's IEP

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