Cocalico adopts new software program for teachers

By on August 17, 2011

By: KIMBERLY MARSELAS Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Special educators and other teachers in the Cocalico School District have a new tool that should help students with customized learning plans.

At a board meeting Monday night, Director of Special Services Mary Rinehart outlined a new software program that helps teachers write, organize and track Individual Education Plans, or IEPs. The plans are specifically tailored to help students in need of special education services, but they are often cumbersome to complete.

Paperwork "is a huge, huge part of what we do," said Rinehart. "If we can make this be a smarter part and be more efficient, that just means teachers can spend more time with students."

The program automates some data-entry that is repeated in IEPs, which sometimes run to more than 40 pages. The information will be immediately accessible to teachers who have special education students in their mainstream classrooms, allowing them to make accommodations such as reading aloud test questions or giving extra time for assignments.

Cocalico was one of only two or three districts in Lancaster County not already using an IEP-writing system. Rinehart said the district had considered using a similar software program for years, but she wanted to wait until she found the right one in "IEP, etc." The district will keep hard copies of IEPs, but Rinehart hopes the system will eventually reduce paper.

Also Monday, the board approved $584,927 in budgeted capital projects, including inspection, architecture and building projects around the district. The board also approved a $27,000 change order for the high school gym expansion project. The district will have to remove an extra 307 tons of rock to expand the gym to an area previously occupied by tennis courts. Test boring did not show the extent of limestone underground.

The board also approved bus schedules, drivers and transportation contracts for the 2011-12 school year. Transportation director Dave Lutz reported that 33 of the district’s 47 buses are new this year, as many of the previous buses were sold as used vehicles. The new buses have high-back seats that limit the view of students sitting in them, so Lutz said most buses would not use cameras for security reasons this year. He met with principals to discuss other safety and discipline measures upon which drivers can rely.

Food services director Chris Dunn also reported on limited changes to school menus for the coming school year. Dunn said the district will now only offer one percent or skim milks and will no longer offer a salad bar. Instead, schools can serve boxed salads and sandwiches with predetermined ingredients.

Member Steve Richardson also expressed concern about the board’s decision not to cover test fees for students taking Advanced Placement exams this year. Richardson, whose son is enrolled in an AP course, criticized a letter sent home to parents warning of the new policy that requires students to take the spring exams and pay for them.

"That bothers me so much," Richardson said. "We spend million of dollars on the educationally challenged and we spend maybe $20,000 on the students who want to be challenged educationally."

The exams, which can lead to college credit, cost $87 each, though students with need can apply for fee reductions.

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