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April 8, 2016 

1.   Call to Order

Caroline Daley called to order the meeting of the TSBVI Board Committee on Programs at 8:01 a.m. on April 8, 2016 in Room 104 of the Main Administration Building 600, 1100 W. 45th Street, Austin, Texas. 

Program Committee members Tobie Wortham and Dr. Anne Corn were also present.

TSBVI staff members participating in the meeting were: Sara Merritt, Short-Term Programs Principal; Susan Hauser, Center for School Resources Director; Ken Miller, Planning, Policy and Procedure Support; Trevor Simmons, LBB Analyst; Chrissy Cowan, Mentor Coordinator; Andy Weir, Media Technician; Steve Landry, Instructional Designer; Kate Hurst, Statewide Staff Development Coordinator; Tad Doezema, Comprehensive Programs Assistant Principal; and Leonard Schwartz, General Counsel.

2.  Consideration of Approval of Minutes of the January 29, 2016 Meeting

Dr. Corn moved that the minutes of the January 29, 2016 meeting be approved and Ms. Wortham seconded the motion.  Committee members were in favor of the motion.

3. Consideration of Approval of Policies

Ken Miller descibed proposed amendments to three Policies.

A.  Policy DAA - Employment Objectives: Equal Opportunity Employment 

A minor amendment to the policy regarding discrimination is proposed.  Bankruptcy is a new category that is protected from discrimination.  Reference to this is added to this policy.  The committee discussed the meaning of the word, “prong” and decided to leave the word as it is in the policy.

B.  Policy FFG - Student Welfare: Child Abuse, Neglect, Exploitation, and Improper Child Care Practice

This policy must be reviewed by the Board every year.  A few minor amendments in language are being proposed at this time.  Mr. Miller explained that TSBVI is unique as a school, since staff must report possible abuse, neglect, exploitation, and improper care by TSBVI staff members directly to designated TSBVI officials.  In addition, staff may also make a report of abuse, neglect or exploitation to appropriate outside agencies. Board members had several questions, which were discussed and answered by Mr. Miller.

C.  Policy FL-E - Student Records

This policy has been reorganized to make it simpler, and several amendments are recommended.  Mr. Miller described these proposed amendments:

    The policy now distinguishes between enrolled students who attend Comprehensive Programs during the school year and Short-Term Program student who remains enrolled in a local school district.  Ms. Daley asked if this is the first time this distinction has been made, and  Mr. Miller confirmed that it is.  This distinction is needed because these students’ records must be handled differently.Additional language regarding the use of digital signatures was added (p. 62).Weekends home staff were added to the list of TSBVI staff who need to access student information (p. 63).  Dr. Corn asked if residential staff have had FERPA training, and Mr. Miller described the annual FERPA training that all staff receive. Staff would not be granted access to information (such as confidential medical records) which they do not need.The section on fees for copies was simplified (p. 72).With consultation from Mr. Schwartz, new information was added regarding destruction of information (p. 74).   New information covering photos, videos, and audio recordings as education records was added (p. 74).  This is the first time that these media have been addressed in this policy.

Mr. Miller and Ms. Hauser described the role of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in advising TSBVI and in assisting TSBVI with the storage of paper documents.

 Mr. Miller recommended that these three policies be approved as corrected, including the elimination of some redundant language.

Dr. Corn made a motion to approve the recommended amendments to these three policies.  Ms. Wortham seconded the motion.  Committee members were in favor of the motion.

4.  Consideration of Approval of the School’s Calendar for 2016-2017

Ken Miller presented the proposed school calendar for the 2016-2017 school year, pointing out various kinds of information contained in the calendar.  Texas law has changed from requiring a certain number of instructional days to requiring a certain number of instructional minutes.  Miles Fain and Susan Houghtling calculated the total number of instructional minutes available in the school day schedule used by TSBVI.  Based on this calculation, the calendar was developed to ensure that the required number of instructional minutes was included in the proposed calendar. 

Ms. Daley asked whether the calendar closely follows the Austin Independent School District (AISD) calendar.  Mr. Miller said that the TSBVI schedule follows the AISD schedule as much as possible, but not in every case.

Ms. Wortham made a motion to approve the proposed 2016-2017 school calendar.  Dr. Corn seconded the motion.  Committee members were in favor of the motion.

5.  Report from Short-Term Programs Principal, Sara Merritt:  Summer Program applications and classes

Sara Merritt gave a status report on summer 2016 programs.  This report is given to the Board every year at this time.  The report indicates the number of students to whom each summer program was offered in 2014 and 2015.  The report shows the total number of students who actually attended summer programs in 2014 and 2015. 

The report also indicates the number of students accepted for summer 2016 as of 4/1/16.  Summer 2016 numbers will change over the next few months.  So far, 13 students have dropped (for various reasons), and they are being replaced by students from the wait list as they drop out.  This process will continue into the summer.  Short-Term Programs staff constantly monitor students who will come to each program and replace drop-outs with other students, to maximize the number of students who are able to attend each summer program.

Each year, TSBVI Short-Term Programs has increased the number of students offered a summer program.  Partially due to these efforts, the number of students actually attending summer programs has increased slightly.  Four more students attended in 2015 than in 2014, despite the extraordinary efforts that were made to increase attendance. 

There has been a decrease in numbers of students applying to TSBVI summer vocational programs, although total numbers of students actually attending TSBVI summer work programs has increased.  Ms. Merritt believes that the decrease in applications is because other vocational programs have been developed across the state, so students are now more able to access work programs closer to their homes.  All departments at TSBVI work across the state to help local schools and agencies better develop local programs, so this is an indication of success in these efforts.

There are a number of possible reasons why students have difficulty attending summer programs. 

    Families must provide transportation, and many families have limited access to reliable transportation.  Families have competing demands of several children and scheduling conflicts.Some students have difficulty adjusting to change, and a family may decide that a short program will not allow the student adequate time to settle in and adjust to the change.  

Ms. Merritt has worked with DARS in supporting families to access services, including Short-Term Programs.  DARS has been able to provide assistance with transportation to summer programs for some families.  Ms. Daley pointed out that DARS is reaching out to families more proactively to ensure that families are able to access Short-Term Programs and other services. 

Ms. Merritt said that Short-Term Programs is trying to serve more deafblind students in summer programs, but there is often a challenge in finding qualified interveners for these students.  Short-Term Programs is also working hard to serve more students in popular programs to which students have had to be turned away in the past, for example, Life Skills Camp.  Many students who would like to attend summer programs have a number of intensive medical or health concerns, and considerable effort is required to prepare for those students.

6.  Report from Outreach Department:  Distance Learning

Several Outreach staff gave a presentation on distance learning at TSBVI. Staff participating in the presentation were Kate Hurst, Chrissy Cowan, Steve Landry, and Andy Weir.

A.  Kate Hurst shared information about the TSBVI website.  She demonstrated several elements that can be accessed on the TSBVI website.

a. Delayed viewing of recorded webinars.  There is a Delayed Viewing Request Form that allows people to arrange to view recorded TSBVI webinars.  Some webinars allow a person to receive continuing education credits, and this has been popular for O&M staff especially.  Outreach O&M specialist Chris Tab has marketed this system through Facebook and Twitter, and there has been a big jump in use by O&M staff.  The system includes a list of archived webinar topics, with an indication of whether each webinar provides continuing education credit.  People may view archived webinars online or they can choose to download an MP3 version of the webinar.  Staff around the state love this feature of the TSBVI website.  Dr. Corn said that it is a great resource, and it would have been great to have it many years ago.  Ms. Hurst said that TSBVI staff have been working on it as fast as they can, and that now university teacher training programs are assigning their students to access the system.

b. Advertising of events.  Ms. Hurst showed several examples of advertisements or announcements for events that are posted on the TSBVI website, including:

    Description of a parent workshop, which includes an explanation of what will happen at the event and a short video from last year.  Presentation of the “In the Driver’s Seat” program.  Dr. Corn briefly explained this program focused on the possibility of becoming a bioptic driver, designed for students who have low vision and their parents. Many students and parents do not have adequate information about this topic.  Ms. Hurst described the various presenters who help with this program.  On the website, there are several activities that parents can do with their child at home.  There will be more videos of various presenters and a panel of low vision adults discussing their own challenges.  The program will be presented annually at TSBVI and possibly at other sites around the state.  Ms. Daley noted that it is really good that the program is utilizing parents as presenters, and that parents are being included in the program, so they can learn about the topic along with other parents.   Ms. Hurst said that the program gives parents a chance to meet other parents and to network with each other. Announcement of the Low Vision Conference, which was presented recently.  Ms. Hurst showed the conference agenda and briefly described the topics that were covered.  Ms. Hurst summarized the areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum, such as accessible technology, compensatory skills like braille, career education, independent living skills, sensory efficiency such as use of touch, self-determination. Chrissy Cowan discussed a session that helps teachers learn how to make appropriate and helpful observations of students and analyze the information they gather. She said that new teachers find the session helpful, because they often don’t realize that they need to observe all the settings that students need adaptations.  Announcement of the Texas Focus Conference, which will be presented in June 2016.  The online advertisement lists presenters and the topics they will present for the conference.  Ms. Hurst briefly discussed the excellent presenters who will be at this conference, and she invited everyone to attend.  Ms. Daley agreed that this is an awesome conference. 

c. Websites that TSBVI manages collaboratively with other organizations.  Ms. Hurst gave an update on the shared penrickton website, which is devoted to Active Learning approaches to teaching students with visual impairments.  Ms. Hurst described some of the content that is on this website.  The website is a very important resource for learning about Active Learning.  There is a plan to make this site more interactive.  TSBVI staff are working with experts across the world to include more information on this site.  Dr. Corn suggested that the website have sections for additional references to past and ongoing research, in case physicians or parents would like to review the information.  Ms. Hurst said that there is almost no research on Active Learning educational approaches.  Children often show very slow progress, so it is difficult to do a shorter-term reseach study such as a college student might be able to complete.  Ms. Hurst plans to look at assessment tools that can show smaller learning gains, so researchers could use these tools to show student progress over a shorter time period. Ms. Hurst said that the penrickton group has done some anecdotal studies, and they are looking into doing more of these.

B.  Steve Landry made a presentation regarding new eLearning products that are being developed at TSBVI. 

Mr. Landry is relatively new to TSBVI.  Previously he has managed online employee training at the Attorney General’s office.  The Attorney General’s office paid $80,000 per year for the products that they used to create the agency’s online training products, but at TSBVI, he has been working with free programs.  During his employment at TSBVI, Mr. Landry has been surprised at the amount of expertise and detail that is needed to train employees and people new to the field of education of visually impaired students.  He has come to realize the depth of knowledge that is needed for staff to do the jobs at TSBVI.  Mr. Landry has had to figure out how to train staff effectively.  Mr. Landry has developed one product that he shared with the group.  For it, he used Noodle, which is an open source (free) learning platform, used to deliver an interactive powerpoint presentation. The noodle-generated course can mirror a course developed at a college.  In the presentation, the user can answer questions and receive multimedia content.

Mr. Landry has a counterpart in Short-Term Programs, Carrie Farrage, Instructional Developer for Distance Learning.  Ms. Farrage has been working with Mr. Landry to create staff development products.  Ms. Merritt described summer staff training modules developed by Ms. Farrage, who has been learning the accessibility skills that she needs in order to develop TSBVI products.  All training programs developed at TSBVI must be accessible. 

Some of the eLearning products in development include:

    Mentor Certification for VI Professionals.  Chrissy Cowen explained that new VI teachers in Texas must have a mentor.  Mentors are trained in person on the TSBVI campus, but if they are unable to attend the training in person, this online product can be used instead.

Foundations of Visual Impairment.

    TSBVI is working with Dr. Jane Erin at the University of Arizona to create small packages of information intended to give an overview of the field of education of visual impairment that can be presented through eLearning.  Foundations of Visual Impairment is a requirement for all new non-VI-certified direct care staff at TSBVI.  In the past, content has been developed and presented by TSBVI subject-matter experts.  New  TSBVI employees must complete the training during their first year of employment, and promotions are dependent on the staff person completing this course.

Mr. Landry pointed out that eLearning is important for several reasons.  People are very busy, such as traveling or working with students, and eLearning allows people to access  information at their own pace and at convenient times.  ELearning has the potential to save money that might have to be spent on in-person training. 

C.  Sara Merritt presented information about in-person distance learning used in Short-Term Programs. 

Ms. Merritt pointed out that the Short-Term Programs audience is students.  Ms. Farrage is developing eLearning modules that students can use to learn specific topics, such as a specific piece of technology like JAWS.  The student from a local district participates with the local Teacher of the Visually Impaired and with a Short-Term Programs staff to learn about the topic that the student needs.

7.  Consideration of Approval of Recommendations of the Instructional Materials Committee

Ken Miller reported for the Instructional Materials Committee.  Each year, TSBVI must certify to the state that students have access to instructional materials that cover all the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).  No new instructional materials were adopted this school year.  It is necessary for the superintendent to sign a certification form and for the Board to approve this submission (p. 86). 

Dr. Corn made a motion that the committee accept the report to the State Board of Education as presented.  Ms. Wortham seconded the motion.  Committee members were in favor of the motion.

8.  Report from Comprehensive Programs Assistant Principal, Tad Doezema:  Transition to Adult Life Update

Tad Doezema gave an update on transition to adult life programming at TSBVI.  Mr. Doezema is one of three Assistant Principals at TSBVI.  He supervises the EXIT and the Post-Secondary programs.  He described new things that are happening in Comprehensive Programs in the area of transition to adult life.

A. The EXIT program now includes students with multiple impairments and deafblindness.  These students are served on the EXIT team for the first time.  Those students and their teachers have benefited from this more intentional focus on adult transition.

B.  More transition assessment tools are being identified for use in Comprehensive Programs.  Transition assessments can help students learn about their interests and skills and can help students and their parents think through the student’s postsecondary goals.  Lynne McAlister is the campus-wide transition coordinator, and she has helped staff explore new transition assessments.  For example, the authors of the Transition Planning Inventory (TPI 2) are working with TSBVI staff to see how TSBVI can use the tool.

C.  The Region 13 Service Center recently started an 18+ cohort.  This is a 2-year group organized to develop ideas about what 18+ programming should look like across the state.  TSBVI and TSD are two of six school selected for this project.  The cohort is led by Elizabeth Danner from Region 13 and Dr. Vicki Mitchell, a leader in the field of adult transition for students with disabilities.  The leaders recently came to spend the day at TSBVI doing a “tech assist.”  Two EXIT students were selected (one Basic Skills student and one student who is possibly college bound), and the focus was on these students and their staff and families.  The goal of the time was for Dr. Mitchell to demonstrate how to do a “life plan.”  TSBVI staff observed Dr. Mitchell in order to learn how to help parents and adult students think about their future adult life in detail, and to mirror the future life in school.  This is especially important for students who need consistency and routine.  The plan is done with the idea that the student’s last day of school should mirror the first day of adult life, so the transition is seamless.  The life plan included details of how the student’s days will be spent as an adult, and planning for resources that will be needed. 

Mr. Schwartz asked how far out into adult life the planning is done.  Mr. Doezema said that the focus is primarily on what will happen immediately after school ends.  Longer-range future plans are also part of it, especially planning future supports, living environments, and getting on waiting lists for future agencies.

Ms. Daley asked if TSBVI checks in with students who have graduated.  Mr. Doezema noted that the Superintendent’s Office does a graduate survey for statistical data.  Up until now, TSBVI has not provided support and suggestions for former graduates. 

Dr. Corn said that learning from former students can help TSBVI better develop its current school programs.  Mr. Doezema is thinking about staff doing follow up with former students as a staff development activity.

Ms. Daley suggested having former students be strongly encouraged to check in the TSBVI at certain intervals after graduation.  This would be an important support for former student who may need some advice or support.

Mr. Doezema said that, in the past, students have stayed at TSBVI until their school eligibiltiy ends and they graduate.  However, most TSBVI students do not live in Austin as adults, and we have recognized that TSBVI needs to collaborate more closely with the student’s local school district to prepare the student to live in his or her local community after graduation.  It is important to consider the advantage of a student returning to the local district and community while still eligible for school, so local supports can be put in place before the student graduates.  Local districts are beginning to appreciate the benefit of having the student return to the local school before graduation.  Even if the district says it is a small community or the school doesn’t have a “program,” it still can be important for the student to return and get supports in place before graduation.  At TSBVI recently, several creative programs have been planned for certain students.  Often, just one person at the local school can help develop a creative program when the student returns.  TSBVI has been actively collaborating with local districts to implement creative, and sometimes shared, programs.  Ms. Daley said that eLearning strategies can help this effort. 

Ms. Daley observed that TSBVI’s eLearning efforts could also help students and families after graduation.  Topics about how to handle specific situations after graduation, such as how to deal with the loss of a job or of a supportive employer, would be helpful.

Mr. Doezema said that special education services should be provided before the students turns age 22.  This is a good time for students to learn and practice the activities they will do after graduation. If a students graduates before age 22, the student could come back and re-enroll in school if it becomes clear that additional school services are needed before the student become age 22.   Mr. Doezema said that EXIT is implementing more regular transition meetings with outside agency staff, parents, and students so they can get a good working relationships while the student is in school.

Ms. Merritt pointed out that the school’s funding, role and responsibility ends when the student is no longer eligible for public education (age 22).  The personal bond that a teacher has with a student can continue after the student leaves school, and teachers may keep in touch personally with a student or family after the student graduates.

Mr. Miller asked Mr. Swartz if the school’s enabling legislation needs to be changed.  Mr. Swartz pointed out that students beyond age 22 continue to need services and supports, and Ms. Daley agreed.  Other agencies are available to support adults after graduation.  TSBVI’s role is to provide education, while adult agencies are more focused on providing services.  However, many young adults continue to need education, even after they graduate. 

Dr. Corn said that the school should have a role in communicating with students who have graduated, for the purpose of understanding how to improve future school programming.  She would not want TSBVI resources to be diverted to educating adults.  Adult agencies should provide this.  Dr. Corn feels that it is important for TSBVI to communicate and interact with adult agencies.

Ms. Wortham asked if TSBVI provides guardianship information to families and students.  Mr. Doezema said that TSBVI social workers sometimes help with this.  Ms. Merritt said that TSBVI relies on local districts to provide this information.  Mr. Miller said that community organizations, such as ARC in Austin, help with this.  Ms. Merritt and Ms. Daley and Mr. Schwartz discussed why it is important for a parent to consider guardianship for an adult child. 

9.   Adjournment

Ms. Daley adjourned the meeting at 10:05 a.m.