Despite its vast size and diversity, Cherry Hill Public Schools are doing a good job of tailoring to the individual needs of special education students, according to an independent review.
Michele Kamens, a professor from Rider University, presented the findings from her report on the school district’s special education program at last night’s Board of Education meeting. Overall, Kamens gave the district a positive outlook while also pointing out a few areas where it can improve.
Kamens commented on the positives of individualism within the schools. She didn’t feel students were being lost in the crowd despite the size of the district.
“What’s really a positive is that each school has its own culture,” Kamens said.
The problem with this, though, is it has led to an inconsistency in procedures. Kamens said the expectations and procedures in special education programs weren’t consistent from school to school. She also felt the district needed to better communicate its procedures among staff and parents.
“A lot of things that are happening are good,” Kamens said, “but they need to be consistently communicated.”
The good news regarding the procedures is changes are already being made.
“There was a new process and procedures crafted,” Kamens said. “I looked at it and it looks great.”
Kamens said some improvements could be made with general education teachers’ involvement in the schooling of special education students. She said many teachers seemed uncomfortable with handling special education students and feels those barriers need to be broken down.
Kamens graded many other aspects of the district’s program very highly. She applauded this district’s involvement of parents, saying it was one of the things with which she was most impressed.
“There’s really an overall positive culture between the parents and the school district,” she said. “I was really wowed by that.”
The district also graded highly for the variety of programs it has for special education. Kamens said the district has the ability to cater to any child coming before it.
The review took place over a few months during the 2013–14 school year. Kamens visited every classroom with a special education student and made first-hand observations. She also had informal conversations with teachers, staff and parents.
Following her observations, focus groups of parents, teachers and administrators were held to gain additional feedback. The groups were open to anyone and served as a dialogue between the school community and Kamens.
“We wanted everyone to feel free to express their opinions,” Kamens said.
Kamens has conducted similar special education program reviews for other New Jersey school districts. She remarked on how open Cherry Hill was to having her come in and letting her perform the review unhindered.
“I was made so welcome in this district and I was comfortable with your staff,” she said.
The Board of Education and district administration said they will consider some of Kamens’ recommendations.