SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / March 2008 / What Is The Regional Advantage?
What Is The Regional Advantage?
By Sandra Heinzel Crews
Director of Special Education (SOESD) Southern Oregon Region III
At Southern Oregon Education Service District (SOESD), we often talk about “The Regional Advantage.” What does “The Regional Advantage” mean? It means that—as an ESD—we can provide certain services and resources more effectively and cost efficiently for the districts in our region than individual districts can provide on their own. The Regional Advantage is especially relevant when it comes to special education services provided by SOESD in Southern Oregon Region III for students with low-incidence disabilities.
Southern Oregon’s Regional Program (one of Oregon’s 8 Regional Programs) provides special education services to children from birth through age 21 with low-incidence disabilities in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Douglas, and Lake Counties. “Low-incidence” typically refers to disabilities which occur in less than 1% of the general school population. Think about children with low-incidence disabilities in Oregon: 1.3% of the Special Education Census Count (SECC)—which represents about 13% of the general school population—are deaf or hard of hearing. 0.5% of the SECC are blind or visually impaired. 1.3% of the SECC have severe orthopedic impairments. And 7.9% of the SECC have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In Region III we have 121 children who are deaf or hard of hearing, 103 who are blind or visually impaired, 119 who have severe orthopedic impairments, and 546 who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Highly trained specialists are needed to provide access to the same education as children without disabilities and to teach them needed compensatory skills (such as signing skills and orientation and mobility). The specialists include teachers of the hearing impaired, teachers of the vision impaired, deaf-blind consultants, orientation and mobility specialists, physical and occupational therapists, autism specialists, braillists, interpreters, and others. Now remember that those children are spread across a 5-county area of 23,541 square miles—nearly one-quarter of the entire state of Oregon!
The Regional Advantage
How can services for a single child with a low-incidence disability (say, deafness) be provided in districts in remote parts of our region? Could the district on its own afford to hire a teacher and sign language interpreter for one child? Could the district even find a teacher and interpreter to hire? Who would train and supervise them? Where would the district get specialized materials and expensive equipment needed by the student? It was because of questions like those that the Regional Program was created in 1981 by the Oregon Legislature. The Regional Program was designed to (1) provide equity for access to specialized service for students with low incidence disabilities, regardless of location within the state, (2) provide a mechanism to acquire and retain highly specialized staff, and (3) maximize taxpayer dollars by capitalizing on a regional economy of scale for providing services for low incidence disabilities. Translated to us in southern Oregon, that means that in any district—regardless of its size or location in the region and regardless of how many students with a particular disability are enrolled in the district this year (or next year)—services are available and will be delivered in a matter of days from the time that student enrolls.
Putting The Regional Advantage to Work
Some of the things we do to operationalize The Regional Advantage in Region III are to help evaluate and determine special education eligibility for children, help plan instructional programs and design learning environments, problem-solve difficult behavioral and instructional challenges with local district and early intervention staff and families, provide modifications and adaptations so that children can participate at school with their nondisabled peers, bring together children with vision and hearing impairments for outdoor recreation and cultural and community events, employ specialists and assign them across the region as children and needs change, provide extensive opportunities for staff development and collegial support, help sign language interpreters improve their skills, and shift resources (funding, staff, and equipment) as they are needed in different locations. We’re proud to be part of SOESD’s Regional Advantage for children with low-incidence disabilities.