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SD Department of Education Dec. 2015  

Special education a team effort in Clark

Earlier this year, special education teacher Susan Schmit and student Michael Bethke accepted the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Transition Services on behalf of the Clark School District. “It was a huge treat,” Schmit says of the award. “And it’s significant that it was awarded to the school district because of how caring our entire district is.”

Jessica Fischer, senior rehabilitation counselor with the Division of Rehabilitation Services in Watertown, nominated the school district: “I nominated the Clark School District because of the exceptional service they provide for students who have disabilities. They go above and beyond to help students reach their goals and be as independent as possible while individualizing each student’s IEP. They provide services to assist the students in learning both independent living skills as well as employment skills so they are ready for the real world of work after high school. I most appreciate the teamwork approach and collaboration the school has with outside agencies to provide the best quality of services for each student.”

Transition about more than academics
Over the course of her career, Schmit has seen transition services expand to include more than academic planning: “If students have adult living goals—obtaining a driver’s license, registering to vote, and so forth—those things can go on their IEP. Transition is about their whole life, not just their academic life.”

Special education students have many of the same aspirations as their peers in general education. They simply require different kinds of support sometimes. “Once my students turn 16, we start doing quite a bit of assessment,” Schmit says. “We talk about their work preferences, likes and dislikes, and go from there to find a career that could fit. Some students require quite a bit of help; others very little.”

Business community an active partner
The school district works with businesses in the community through Project Skills, a program administered through the South Dakota Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services.

“Our business community has been very supportive of Project Skills. Students work in the summer, and start with four hours a day. One of our teacher’s aides, Sherry Swanson, stays with students on the job as long as they need help,” Schmit says. “As they’re able to work more independently, Sherry pulls back and monitors through phone calls or whatever the situation calls for. Sometimes this program even leads to permanent jobs for students. The employers provide valuable experience for our students. They’ve been great to us.”

Life lessons in the classroom
In the classroom, reading comprehension is one of Schmit’s highest priorities for her students. “I’m always working to increase their reading levels. They’re going to have to read in all areas of their life,” she says. “We also work on consumer math skills, in addition to algebra and geometry, so they understand consumer vocabulary, practical math they’ll use in the real world with checking accounts and that sort of thing,” Schmit says.

Schmit also commends her colleagues Tammie Paulson and Greg Janisch who teach career and technical education courses in family and consumer sciences and ag. “Students can use the skills learned in those classes all their lives,” she says.

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