Montgomery County Public Schools is trying to improve its program for instructing students who can’t get to school for physical, emotional or disciplinary reasons. School officials say the current approach is outdated and insufficient.
Plans for changes to the Interim Instructional Services program include personalized learning plans, various ways for students to take part in lessons, and a focus on students’ social and emotional well-being, said Ursula Hermann.
Hermann was director of the school system’s department of student services before she retired on Monday.
Hermann told the county school board on Monday that it’s necessary to update the current model, which was created many years ago, and to do a better job on services that keep students engaged and current.
“This is about them. This is about what they need,” Hermann said. “This is about what special conditions they bring to the table. This is about how we help them stay engaged in really meaningful instruction, even if they can’t be in the school building.”
The program — formerly called Home and Hospital Teaching — serves about 800 students each school year who are out of the classroom for varying amounts of time, ranging from around four weeks to the majority of the school year.
Data from 2013-14 shows that most students who needed instruction through the program — about 336 — had a physical or medical condition. About 244 students were out of school due to emotional needs, about 142 due to disciplinary reasons and about 72 due to pregnancy.
About 165 temporary part-time teachers work with the students at a home, hospital or other site.
Hermann told the board that the interim instruction students need multiple options for keeping up with classes. Students should keep meeting one-on-one with teachers, she said, but also should have online courses, recorded lessons and other technology.
A personalized learning plan should indicate which learning methods are best for a particular student, she said.
The program is working toward a model in which a case manager would help coordinate a student’s time in the program, Hermann said.
New steps to improve the program started this past school year. They include a special education teacher position, a computer lab for program teachers and online courses.
This summer, program staff will meet with individual schools.
In 2014-15, the redesign will continue. There will be an online process for families to apply and staff to collect student information, more professional development for teachers, and an increased use of technology, according to a memo to the school board.
In a third implementation phase from 2015 through 2018, the plan includes a recommendation for the school system to assign permanent teachers to the program, the memo says.
Board Vice President Patricia O’Neill said she thinks the school system can provide a “real, expansive range of course offerings” for students through technology.
Board member Shirley Brandman said she sees potential to coordinate the Interim Instructional Services program with similar work in the school system, citing the redesign of the alternative education program that also includes personalized learning plans.
Bonnie Grimm, a home and hospital program teacher in the system for two years, said after the board meeting that she has taught a range of students who have faced illnesses, new parental duties and tough family situations.
Grimm said she thinks there should be better compensation for teachers.
“I think that technology is great, but my reservation is that nothing takes the place of that close connection that the teacher and the student can have,” she said.