February 29, 2020

Mallory Herrmann

The Lee’s Summit R-7 School District is looking back at some successes – and some opportunities for improvement – for their special education program during the 2018–2019 school year.

Dr. Staci Mathes, executive director for special services, gave the presentation to the board of education at their Feb. 20 regular meeting.

The special services program is part of the district’s equity and student services department, and it served more than 1,800 students (ages 3 through 21) last year. Mathes noted that while the program does serve early childhood classrooms and older students preparing to transition to their postsecondary plans, the majority of students served are in K–12 classrooms. That specialized instruction benefits both special education and general education classrooms.

The special services program receives federal, state and local funds to support its annual cost of about $31 million. Approximately 94% of that cost is for salaries and benefits; the remaining funds pay for supplies, equipment, transportation and other individualized needs for students.

Pointing to some celebratory milestones, Mathes was particularly proud of the increasing graduation rate the district has seen over the last three years – along with a steady decline in dropout rates according to data since the 2016–2017 school year.

“In 2019, we graduated 89.8% of our students with IEPs within that four-year timeframe,” Mathes said, adding that the state average in Missouri is just 76.8%.

Looking to the future, inclusivity is a primary goal for special services. They’re working to determine how to increase the number of students who are served in general education settings at least 80% of the time, how to increase the number of students with IEPs who score in the proficient and advanced categories in state assessments, and how to connect families with disabilities to resources in advance to support postsecondary planning and preparation.

Board Member Ryan Murdock asked about resources for parents and guardians who have questions or concerns about their student’s needs being met – and what parents and guardians can do to help ease any friction, which can be common when implementing an IEP.

Mathes recommended speaking with their case manager or teacher first; a zone program coordinator or building principal can also support as needed.

“I always want parents to feel like they can ask questions,” Mathes said, acknowledging that IEP meetings can feel intimidating and unfamiliar to parents and guardians. She encouraged parents and guardians to reach out any time with questions to ensure that they feel confident in the plan.

The program is evaluated annually. While a formal presentation to the board only occurs every three years, a written report is submitted each year.