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Statewide role may grow for deaf, blind schools

Louisville Courier Journal, KY - Aug 11, 2004

By Nancy C. Rodriguez
The Courier-Journal

Kentucky's historic schools for the deaf and blind can keep their K-12 programs but must raise test scores and provide more services to sight- and hearing-impaired students in regular schools statewide, under a plan the state Board of Education is expected to approve tomorrow.

The plan requires both schools to shift some resources and staff from their campuses to serve more students in regular programs within the state's 176 school districts.

The schools would, for example, coordinate efforts to identify and track deaf and blind students statewide, provide training for teachers, and work with school districts to develop services for deaf and blind students.

They also would continue to offer summer programs and would create or expand short courses, where students could come to the schools temporarily to learn life skills.

At least initially, neither school will get more money to carry out those extra tasks.

The plan comes in part in response to criticism of the schools' academic achievement and a demand by some officials that the state get a better return for the $16 million it spends each year to operate both institutions.

Officials at the state Department of Education say it is no longer efficient or effective for the money to be spent solely at the two schools when 80 percent of the state's 1,150 deaf and blind students are being educated in their home districts.

"We have kept the resources pretty much on the campuses. And now we are trying to do what we should do, and that's provide services to all kids," said Johnnie Grissom, an associate commissioner who oversees the department's Office of Special Instructional Services.

Supporters of Kentucky's blind and deaf schools say they are glad to see kindergarten through 12th-grade classes will remain. But they worry that expanding services might divert resources from the schools, which have improved academically in the past two to three years.

"A lot more is being asked of the school. So my question naturally is how do you do more with less, and not sacrifice that program?" said Pauletta Feldman, whose son, Jamie Weedman, just graduated from the School for the Blind.

For her son, who also attended Jefferson County Public Schools part time, the School for the Blind allowed him to be part of swim and track teams and take part in an independent living program where he lived in an apartment and learned to shop, cook and clean.

"If our kids aren't competent at being blind, they can't be competent at being students in the regular curriculum," Feldman said.

The proposal, if approved, will be phased in over five years.

The state board will discuss the plan at a meeting today and tomorrow in Frankfort, with the board expected to take action tomorrow.

Scores were lower

Located in Louisville, the Kentucky School for the Blind expects to enroll 73 students in kindergarten through 12th grade this school year.

The Kentucky School for the Deaf, which has its main campus in Danville, enrolled 150 students last year. The school also served about 20 students in regional programs.

About 60 students live on campus at each school.

Criticism of the two schools mounted three years ago, when state officials noticed their low test scores. The deaf and blind students at the schools tended to score lower on state tests than deaf and blind students attending schools in their home districts.

Additionally, a study commissioned by the state board, and released in 2002, found that the two schools lacked clearly defined roles and needed to take on larger roles offering statewide resources.

The plan — developed during the past two years with advice from parents, districts, educators and officials — would be fully phased in by 2009.

Kentucky is among several states, including Virginia and Kansas, re-examining how they educate deaf and blind students.

Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, said the issue often comes up when budget times are tight.

"Every time a state gets in a budget crunch they look for places to cut," she said. "They say they're going to serve all these kids in their home schools. But when it comes to really providing the resources — the money and the personnel ... needed to do that — they just never seem to find it when it comes down to the bottom line."

Bill Melton, the manager/administrator at the deaf school, said the proposal will move the school forward and help students. But he hopes it eventually will include more money, especially when it comes to upgrading technology.

"I think more resources are going to have to be given to us to pull it off," he said.

Grissom said the schools would be able to implement the first few years of the plan with their current staff. While the schools' enrollments are lower than they once were, their staffing levels have not dropped accordingly, she said.

Grissom said she understand the concerns, "But we have a responsibility to all 100 percent of the children."

Kentucky School for the Blind
Location: Louisville.
Opened: 1842 on Sixth Street before moving to its 14-acre location on Frankfort Avenue in 1855.
Third state-supported school for the blind in the United States.
Enrollment: 78 students, about 60 of whom live on campus.
Staff: About 116.

Kentucky School for the Deaf
Location: Danville.
Opened: 1823 as the fourth school for the deaf in the United States on 160-acre campus.
First state-supported school of its kind in the country.
Enrollment: 150 students, 60 of whom live on campus. Served about 20 other students in regional programs last year.
Staff: 155.

Copyright 2004 The Courier-Journal.



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