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Episode 47: A Passion for Serving Students with Special Needs

Serving students with special needs is something many educators in Jordan School District are passionate about. On this episode of the Supercast, we hear about the amazing work being done to take care of students with special needs, especially during a pandemic.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent Godfrey:
Hello, and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. Today, we hear about some of the amazing work being done every day in Jordan School District to take care of students with special needs, especially during a pandemic. We have Kim Lloyd, Director for Special Education. Kim, welcome on the program.

Kim:
Thank you.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Later on, we have the chance to speak with Susie Cuzme, who is a teacher at Kauri Sue Hamilton School. But before we talk with Susie, I wanted to talk with Kim and give our listeners a bit of an idea of what Special Education involves in Jordan School District. You have gone to a lot of work, along with your staff, to help continue to provide services for students with disabilities through the soft closure in the spring, and I know you're doing a lot to gear up for the fall and it's complicated because you're meeting a wide variety of needs and expectations. And so, I just know you've put a lot of work into that, and I really appreciate what you and your staff have been doing.

Kim:
Thank you. Our staff has put a lot of time, effort and energy into meeting the needs of students, as well as following guidelines.

Superintendent Godfrey:
There are a lot of protections in place for students with disabilities, as there should be. And as a result, we put plans together as a District for providing an education, and then your team and our Special Education teachers and specialists, take it from there to be sure that they're able to meet IEP goals, based on what we're doing for the general population of students.

Kim:
We do. We have teacher specialists that work with teachers on how to meet those goals and how to follow the procedures of IEP and meet the overall federal guidelines from IDEA, which is the federal law that we work in under Special Ed. There are several things we had to come up with on how to hold IEP meetings at a distance, how to sign IEP meetings, evaluations that we had to defer until we could have that face-to-face with kids. Now we are also currently working on how to come back to school and provide those services, keeping our staff and students as safe as possible.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And there's a big compliance element, always to Special Education, but it goes well beyond that. It goes to just caring about these kids and their needs and making sure that the momentum that has been created by teachers isn't lost and that learning continues and kids continue to feel cared for and receive the support that they need to learn at the very best levels they can.

Kim:
Yes. And compliance is a big piece of that. Like you said, our teachers love our students. They care about our students. They want the best for our students. There are those compliance pieces that we do need to stay within the law on. We do need to make sure that our students are evaluated, that they're meeting our IEP goals, that they have data to say that either we need to change IEP goals or we need to meet and change those IEP goals so that they're more relevant to students. The documentation, all of our testing, all of our related services. We've had to come up with creative ways to meet those online and make sure that kids were making progress as much as possible online. We're also spending a large amount of time trying to come up with how we're going to come back to school and keep all of our students safe, our staff safe, and everybody able to learn.

Superintendent Godfrey:
It's a big task. And I know that most people probably don't realize the wide range of specialists that are hired by Jordan District to help students with various needs. Can you even just rattle off a list of some of the different positions that we have in the Special Education Department, out in our schools to help students?

Kim:
I am happy to rattle off that list and I know I will miss somebody somewhere, but I am happy to rattle off that list. We serve kids in Jordan School District from birth until 21 because we have the Early Intervention Program. So, we have people that are going out into homes. We have preschool from three to five years of age, so we have preschool teachers. We have our programs that are K-12 programs. We have mild, moderate, we have severe programs. We have an Autism cluster. We have some of our more severe cluster classrooms and teachers. We have OT, which is occupational therapists. We have Physical Therapists, we have Audiologists. We have school psychologists that provide guidance and mental health support. We have teachers of vision impaired kiddos. We have teachers of hearing impaired kiddos. We have orientation and mobility. We have interveners for our students that are deaf and/or blind.We have Adaptive PE teachers. We have assistants to our occupational therapist and motor skill providers that work with our occupational therapists and our physical therapists. We have behavior specialists. We have behavior teachers. We have a whole host of folks that work with, and I'm hoping I didn't miss anybody. We also have teachers and teacher specialists, SLPs, which are Speech and Language Pathologists. All those folks work together with families, they work together with teachers. They work together with administrators and they work to ensure that our kids have the opportunity to learn and that they're providing an education. And all of people, and across our District, we have amazing people that care about kids.

Superintendent Godfrey:
That's absolutely true. We have lots of great people working really hard with a wide variety of expertise that they bring to it. We are going to be talking with Susie Cuzme at Kauri Sue Hamilton School. And I just wanted you to give a little bit of background on some of the Special Education Schools that we have in the District as well. We have three. Tell everyone about that.

Kim:
We have three schools. We have, South Valley School, which is our school for our post high. In that school, we have a variety of programs to help our adult students transition into community-based programs and into daily living programs, some into group homes, some into higher education programs. We have River's Edge, which has intensive behavioral support for our students that need that additional behavior support so they function better in a classroom that has the expert faculty to work with behaviors. We also have Kaurie Sue Hamilton, which is a school that really focuses on our students with our more severe, medically fragile, orthopedic impairment types of disabilities. And they really work with a variety of kids with more severe disabilities. And they also work with kids from preschool. Our preschool is housed at Kauri Sue, but works for kids from 5 to 21. And they work with everything from academics, daily living, feeding, community-based programs, communication. You name it, they do a great job with it. All of our schools do. All three of our schools are amazing and do a great job.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I'm very proud of the work that our folks do and of the schools and programs that we have in place.

Kim:
Thank you. We do have something to be very proud of. How are our teachers work with families, how they work with kids, how they work with each other and with administration, we do amazing things out there. We have amazing families that we work with.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back, we'll hear about the passion and love one Special Education Teacher has for her job and her students. Susie Cuzme joins us next.

Sandra Reisgraf:
Are you looking for a job right now? Looking to work in a fun and supportive environment with great pay and a rewarding career? Jordan School District is hiring. We're currently filling full and part time positions. You can work and make a difference in young lives and education as a classroom assistant or a substitute teacher. Apply to work in one of our school cafeterias where our lunch staff serves up big smiles with great food every day. We're also looking to hire custodians and bus drivers. In Jordan school District, we like to say, "People come for the job and enjoy the adventure". Apply today at workatjordandistrict.org.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We are here with Susie Cuzme, a teacher at Kauri Sue Hamilton School. She was one of the Jordan Education Foundation Teachers of the Year for Jordan School District. Susie, thanks for joining me on the Supercast.

Susie:
Thanks so much for having me.

Superintendent Godfrey:
It's a thrill to get the chance to talk with you. We have over 3,000 teachers in Jordan District, as you know, and very few get this award. And you were one of those who received it this year. It was so fun to be a part of the Zoom meeting when those awards were given and to see the enthusiasm from your colleagues. And we got to meet your parents on there, as well.

Susie:
I know, that was pretty special. My school really goes above and beyond to show how much we're appreciated. They definitely did that, bringing my parents in.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah, they said that you are their greatest work, greatest accomplishment. So that's pretty awesome, and I don't disagree. That's  wonderful thing. Now, you have not always been a teacher. You came from another career, is that right?

Susie:
Yes. I came from a background of a mix of jobs, actually. I have a degree in psychology and I've worked in market research. Then I had gotten laid-off and I decided I would just only do work that I was passionate about, which, not having determined my passions, just ended up being a lot of little jobs. It wasn't until I went back to grad school for Speech Therapy that I ended up finding myself in education.

Superintendent:
Well, I'm glad that you found your way to us. Tell us about your role at Kauri Sue Hamilton School, but first, many people may not know Kauri Sue Hamilton School and what it's all about. So can you tell us a little bit about that and then about your role?

Susie:
Yes, so, the Kauri Sue Hamilton School. We describe it here in Utah as a center-based school. It is a public school in the Jordan School District and it's for all the students with multiple and severe disabilities. So a lot of times when I'm talking about where I work and I say that, people say, "Oh, okay, you work with students who have Autism". And I say, yes, but maybe take the student that you know has a diagnosis of Autism and multiply it. Most students have a lot of disorders that range from Cerebral Palsy, seizure disorders, genetic disorders, like fragile X or Angelman's and ones that are just so rare, globally, that there's less than 10 people around the world that have that diagnosis. And those are the kinds of students that we are serving at Kauri Sue.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And what is your specific role in helping those students?

Susie:
I am a Speech Language Pathologist, or as a lot of parents like to say, a Speech Therapist at the school. I am on a phenomenal team that consists of two other speech therapists, a speech technician and an assistant. And between our team, we serve the majority of students at the school. So, that's around 200 kids with multiple and severe disabilities.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And if you want to talk about a school with diverse needs, that is a school with diverse needs. I had the chance to be part of the Christmas Concert this year that we've been able to see year after year. The kids from Kauri Sue Hamilton School come and perform at the District Offices every Christmas. And they asked me to sit in on guitar and that was really, really fun. You kind of get to know the kids a little bit better, and what I love is that it's obvious the school finds ways for every kid to find their own kind of success, based on their needs and their abilities.

Susie:
Yeah, I think that's one of the things that I love about my job, that the student population is so diverse and it's not a "one size fits all". So specifically, in terms of communication and speech therapy, in a typical school, you might have students who have an Arctic problem and you do your Arctic therapy and kids make progress, and then you graduate them. And it's great. And you can kind of do the same therapy with each student, but at Kauri Sue Hamilton, we have kids who are using picture symbols, they're using iPad tablets, they're using Samsung tablets. They might be using phones or eye gaze or switches. Every student's needs are just so unique. And we do have to capitalize on how they can express themselves and how we can help them make the progress they need for that individual student.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What is it that makes you passionate about working with students at Kauri Sue Hamilton School? It's obvious that you're passionate about helping them and that you love it.

Susie:
I think what I love is the new challenges that come up every day. It's not the same. I kind of pictured myself working as an SLP in a school where you could do that Arctic therapy and he acts great because you see the kids make progress. And we don't see that really quick progress at Kauri Sue. It's a unique place where everyday I get to problem solve. I get to learn something new. I get to have so many different tools in my toolbox that I think a lot of other people in education just don't necessarily get the opportunity to build, because what they're working works great, but what we have to do at Kauri Sue, and what I have to do is come up with new tools and new tricks on a daily basis. Sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. I've got to change up my lesson plans super fast. And I think it's just really fun and engaging for me to have that kind of work.

Superintendent Godfrey:
You probably are never looking at the clock to see how soon the day's going to be over. I'll bet it flies by.

Susie:
Oh yes, it does. The days are super, super fast and super fun. We do these large group lessons and we are singing and dancing. And when kids do something they're supposed to, everyone just goes nuts. It's really fun. And you are never looking at the clock.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah. So, would you talk about new tools and new new methods and always having to adapt on-the-fly? I guess that's been preparing you for what was coming this year with our soft closure, because you've had to be flexible and nimble for a long time now.

Susie:
Yeah. Yeah. It's actually, been really interesting for us to take what we've learned and to apply it to the virtual learning setting. I think one thing that came out that's just really odd is that we had received a Grant in the fall and purchased a bunch of table mounts to hold on iPads up for students who maybe didn't have good, fine motor function to activate an iPad in their lap, or needed it propped up for vision. And now we're actually able to loan out those table tablet holders to families so that they can use it as the second eye for their student who is accessing a device. So, in these virtual settings, we need to actually see what the student is doing in addition to seeing the student and being able to get that Grant and have this equipment and loan it out to families has been enormously helpful for some of our students during this time.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Not only is everyday learning very different at Kauri Sue Hamilton School, but online learning is very different as well.

Susie:
Yes. Online is very different as well. I would agree because not every kid needs those two angles. Most kids can sit and pay attention, hopefully, and engage, but we have to bring things up on the screen and keep kids watching and make sure we're the most interesting thing.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And with a school where there's an IEP and a complex IEP for every student, there's a lot of needs to try to meet. I just, I can't even imagine how complex that task must be.

Susie:
Yes. We've had great collaboration at our school. We've really tried to work with the occupational therapists to figure out what words are they targeting. Can they link it to a classroom lesson? Or if PT has a goal at home for a student to be on a bike, maybe that's the word that we target in our virtual speech lessons. So we're always trying to talk to each other. It's a real interdisciplinary approach for our kids so that we're hitting on their IEP goals and we're also helping to generalize those skills from each of those disciplines, academic, physical therapy, occupational therapy, music, even PE too.

Superintendent Godfrey:
You talked about a misconception earlier, about maybe the needs of students at Kauri Sue Hamilton School. Are there other misperceptions about  what an SLP does or what Kauri Sue Hamilton School is like that you would share with parents or those who are listening?

Susie:
Yes. I think the biggest shocker when I keep talking about my school to other people is when I explained to them that 90% of the kids on my caseload are non-verbal. So even when you explain that these are kids with severe disabilities, they're profound disabilities. People still don't quite have a grasp on what the abilities of these students are, and so it takes a lot of description to help them understand. But on that note, it's also incredible to describe what our students are able to do. I've had a student for the past couple of years where someone said, "Oh, I don't think they can do eye gaze. You should pick someone else". And I said, "No, I really think this kid is using his eyes to communicate". And low and behold, we're now getting him funded for a dedicated diabetes device. And that's an incredible feeling to have.

Superintendent Godfrey:
That's really exciting. Tell me more about an eye gaze device. What exactly does that do?

Susie:
Our students can communicate in a variety of ways. Those with significant physical impairments, students who are mostly wheelchair for all activities of daily living, who might not be able to use their hands to do anything or have good head control. There are high tech eye gaze devices. These were really cool. Years ago, we didn't have have tablets, But there are now devices that are tablets that you can mount in front of a person in a wheelchair. And it'll bring up a grid of buttons that have vocabulary on them. It can be a single word vocabulary, or it can be phrases, and the technology is such that a person just has to look in a certain spot, maybe for a certain period of time, like half a second or more, and then there's almost a cursor effect where it'll click on that button and the device will speak the message on that button.

Superintendent Godfrey:
That's really something. So as a Speech Language Pathologist, you find ways for students to communicate through whatever means you can find so that they can connect to the world.

Susie:
Absolutely. In fact, during this time, when we're running our online speech groups, the first thing we have to do on our "word of the week" lesson is talk about all the different ways you can say that word, and we go through it. We say, you can sign "help". This is how you sign it. This is how you say it with your voice. You put your lips together for the "P" you can grab a picture symbol of health. You can point to a picture of health. You can point to a picture of health on your iPad. You can look at a picture of health. We've got to go through all of those different methods because our students use all of those different methods and even more so, with different software programs.

Superintendent Godfrey:
There are so many ways to communicate that we take for granted that we don't even think about. And you use all of those to connect with students. I love that. I've never heard it expressed quite that way and I think that's wonderful.

Susie:
Yeah. It's pretty remarkable when you start to go through the different ways kids are communicating. And, what I think is incredible is the teachers at Kauri Sue and the staff at Kaurie Sue also have to learn this as well. So, just because you're in a classroom with similar kids, they might be the same chronological age or the same cognitive age. They are all still using different systems. And so our teachers have to be really on top of knowing,this kid has a GoTalk device that he uses to say hi, but this kid uses ta single switch to say hi. So again, it comes back to a real strong team effort.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So how has working at Kauri Sue Hamilton and working with those students changed your life?

Susie:
Gosh, I have never held a job longer than the job that I've had at Kauri Sue. I absolutely really didn't think I would love it. I didn't think I would work in Special Education. I don't think I thought I would have a job that I would be so happy with. I've never felt so connected to the people I'm helping, the people I work with. I've gone through a lot of life events since working at Kauri Sue. I've proposed to my boyfriend. I got married. I actually went through cancer treatment while I was at Kauri Sue and just the outpouring of support from people there. The staff and student families alike have been incredible.  They've really just built such a community there and I feel so loved and supported in my career. It's life changing because I don't think I would go anywhere else.

Superintendent:
Wow. It really is a family over there it sounds like.

Susie:
Yeah, absolutely. It is.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Boy, I don't even know what to say. That's just very moving. That's wonderful. What a place to work. And they're so lucky to have you. Like I said, the accolades that we heard were heartfelt and plentiful and we just heard so many nice things about you through that process. It's obvious how much you love those kids and love the people you work with. And I'm so happy we have you at Kauri Sue Hamilton School and in Jordan School District.

Susie:
I am certainly happy that I found myself there because it's just been the best.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We're very proud of all the efforts made every day to meet the needs of our special needs students in Jordan School District.

Thanks for joining us again on the Supercast. Remember, education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see out there.

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