Haddonfield School District stands at the vanguard of state efforts to improve the academic experience for students with disabilities – and now has the video evidence to back it up.
On June 25, HSD’s Director of Special Needs Education Gino Priolo, and the district as a whole, were honored by the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education at its annual conference in North Jersey for superlative attention to the issue, above and beyond state standards.
“Myself and two of our district special education teachers, Emily Pizoli and Lynn Jones, attended the NJCIE’s annual summer conference. It included teachers from throughout the state, members of the state Department of Education. They showed the video, and we were awarded for our commitment to inclusive practices,” he explained.
At the school board’s public meeting in April, Fred Buglione, president and CEO of the NJCIE, initially lauded the district’s efforts, and Priolo in particular, for the district’s commitment to inclusivity regarding students with various disabilities.
Buglione revealed at that time that Haddonfield’s four-year graduation rate for students with disabilities was 97 percent – with the state average at only 80 percent. He noted he was in the rare position of having to laud, rather than admonish, a school district for performance in that area.
As a result, Buglione said a film crew would visit various locales throughout the district in May for a two-day stretch to produce a film that would be used as a guide for other state school districts.
Priolo said the crew visited toward the end of the academic year, shooting at Tatem Elementary School and Haddonfield Middle School.
“We had a two-day shoot with classroom instruction happening, highlighting inclusive practices in place in the district, a variety of interviews were set up with teachers from both schools and child study team members,” Priolo continued.
Priolo thought the completed video shown at the conference was well-received and could aid teachers in districts where the rate of inclusion is relatively low compared to Haddonfield as well as other districts throughout the state.
“I think they saw hope in that there is a model that can be replicated to help support more inclusion of students with special needs for students in a general education setting,” he added.
Among those featured in the video were district educators Angela Lloyd, Madeline Mullin, Kate Nave, Laurie Bushey, Central Elementary School Principal Shannon Simkus and HMS Principal Tracy Matozzo, as well as parent Nancy Potts.
“What they were trying to do was to gain a sense of perspective from faculty and staff about inclusive practices. They weren’t so much singling those people. What’s important to note is, regardless of whose name is on the award, it’s a total district effort,” Priolo continued.
“And to have inclusive practices, you have to have a whole team to be able to support that successfully. It’s not just me as special education director. There’s a lot of work done by my predecessor, Bonni Rubin-Sugarman, who was the former director for about 10 years, and all the amazing teachers and administrators in the district who support inclusive practices. That’s why we’ve been so successful.”
In late June, within the district’s monthly newsletter, the link to the completed video was posted, which can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGW_0Hj38M8&feature=youtu.be.