After receiving the findings of a months-long audit of the special education programs provided to 422 students districtwide, La Cañada Unified School District officials discussed Tuesday how they might fine tune those services.

Bob Farran, a consultant with DirectEd Specialized Services, Inc., was contracted at a cost not to exceed $9,000 to conduct the audit. He visited school sites and the district office 14 times in a period of four months, speaking with staff, teachers and parents to find out what's working and what might be changed for the better.

Together, he and Dr. Tamara Jackson, the district's director of special education, developed a set of recommendations to present to the board. The process was intended to fulfill a district goal set for Jackson's department last year, and several of the suggestions have already begun to be implemented.

"Overall, I see the district is a safe and wonderful place for kids," Farran said Tuesday. "I'm just kind of interested, how do you know these kids are getting better? How do you know all this stuff we're doing is paying off?"

The consultant commended the professionalism of the district's special education teachers, who actively engaged in conversations about measuring student progress and creating focused and realistic goals.

Farran also identified a few areas for improvement, including offering more online resources and help to parents in need, creating collaboration time outside the school day for staff members and better documentation of family concerns and how those concerns were being addressed in the Individual Education Plan (IEP).

Stressing the importance of getting families invested in a special education plan as early as possible, Farran consulted with the district's preschool staff and made suggestions for streamlining the transition into kindergarten.

As a result of that work, a newly named the Foundations Preschool was created to better align students with the expectations of kindergarten and acclimate them with Common Core standards.

"I believe in family support systems early on," Farran said. "I think it's an easy thing to do, and Dr. Jackson is very supportive of that."

In his school board member comments, Dan Jeffries said he approves of offering more support to parents by listing special education resources on the district's website.

"It's a great thing to have for people who are looking for answers and looking for help," Jeffries said.

Board Vice President Andrew Blumenfeld said he'd like to know more about the progress made on the individual student level, especially when kids transition to mainstream classes, commenting that he didn't see that in Farran's report.

Anais Wenn, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, responded that school-site principals closely monitor individuals who make the move to mainstream classes, and keep on top of IEP goals.

"If a child has a goal that has not been met, we're not continuing the same goal over and over," Wenn said. "We're looking at how we can modify that goal."

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Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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