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March 6, 2010

A look at the Stimulus Act’s impact in the Valley

Millions going to strengthen students’ skills

TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County School Corp. Title 1 program is benefiting from $3.2 million in federal stimulus funds aimed at helping students strengthen their reading, writing and math skills.

Meanwhile, Covered Bridge Special Education District will receive $4.7 million over two years, primarily to improve the education of special needs students. Covered Bridge receives the money on behalf of its four member school districts.

So far, Vigo County’s Title 1 program has received $1.1 million in stimulus funding installments, said Bob Karr, accounting supervisor with the school district. The funds are being used at all 14 Title 1 schools for before- and after-school academic programs, such as math clubs and reading programs. It’s also being used to purchase instructional equipment such as computers and smartboards.

Part of the funds are being used for professional development and parent involvement.

The stimulus funds have saved 10 full- and part-time jobs  — two teaching assistants and eight certified staff — that otherwise would have been cut because of reductions in the regular Title 1 grant, said Christi Fenton, the district’s Title 1 coordinator.

The district also is offering a new preschool program at Deming Elementary and has hired a part-time teacher for that program.

The added programs and additional equipment “simply would not have happened had we not had this stimulus money,” Fenton said.

Some of the programs being offered include a homework club and after-school language arts enrichment at Terre Town; a remediation program at Fuqua; and tutoring programs at Chauncey Rose Middle School and Davis Park Elementary. The 14 Title 1 schools also include Sarah Scott Middle School and Booker T. Washington High School.

The before- and after-school instructional programs are helping students improve academically, which should, in turn, help improve ISTEP scores, Fenton said.

The district doesn’t expect to use all the money this academic year, and it can carry over funding into a second year. The Title 1 program and schools are now deciding how to use carryover money next year.

Schools have different programs, based on the needs of their students. Part of the funds are used to pay the salary of teachers who are extending their workday.

Title 1 schools receive funding based on the number of students in the building.

Covered Bridge Special Education District has spent $1.4 million of the stimulus money so far, said Jeff Blake, Covered Bridge executive director.

The special education cooperative serves four school districts — the Vigo County School Corp., South Vermillion, Southwest Parke and Rockville — that are benefiting from the stimulus dollars. Covered Bridge is the fiscal agent.

“Stimulus funding has been very good for us and very beneficial,” particularly at a time when state funding to public schools is being cut, Blake said. “It’s helped the schools do a whole lot of things that need to be done as far as training and purchase of materials and equipment.”

It also has created or helped maintain 9.5 jobs.

Stimulus funds have been used to focus on such areas as autism, early intervening services (Response to Intervention) and collaboration/co-teaching. It’s been used to train school staffs in those and other areas, he said.

For example, autism coaches and staff have been working to help develop autism teams at each school in the four districts. The idea is to have a school-wide approach to working with students who have autism “because those students are in every building,” Blake said. The number of students with autism has increased significantly in recent years.

Another focus is co-teaching and collaboration “to support a more inclusive model of instruction, where we teach special education and general education students the same curriculum at the same time in the same place, rather than being separate,” Blake said.

Research shows that more inclusive models “are more effective in getting students to pass ISTEP,” he said.

Stimulus money has made it possible to free up other funds to hire three Response to Intervention (RTI) coaches. RTI is designed to identify a student’s learning problems and address them before special education services are needed. A tiered set of interventions is used.

RTI is aimed at “getting in there early and seeing what you can do to get that child on track,” Blake said. It could mean that fewer children need special education services in the future.

The three coaches, who have received extensive training, are now working with schools to help them develop their own RTI programs. “We’ll pilot four Vigo County schools in the fall,” Blake said. The other districts will have pilot programs as well.

RTI is not yet a state mandate, “but it will be or most likely will be” in the future, he said.

Blake said his only regret with the stimulus money is that “we’ve been given a huge amount of money to spend in a limited time.” If the funds had been spread out over several years, it would enable educators to plan ahead better. “We might be able to avoid some of these economic hard times, not just here but across the state,” he said.

Funds have been used to hire an autism coach and two autism behavior assistants; two curriculum coaches; 1.5 preschool teachers; and three education assistants. Most of those are new hires, he said.

Covered Bridge also has bought equipment and materials, enabling more students to have access to technology in the classroom. The equipment includes mobile computer labs.

Staff also have more computers to do electronic individual education plans (IEPs).

“We’re grateful to have the money and we’re trying to make the very best use of it to benefit children,” Blake said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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