More than 1 in 5 Sterling students require special services

Director of student services updates school board on growing need

Becky Haas, director of student services, provides an update on the growth in students requiring special support during a presentation to the Sterling Public Schools board of education meeting on March 22, 2023.

STERLING – The number of students receiving some manner of accommodation or other special education support at Sterling Public Schools continues to grow and now is a “significantly large” portion of the student body.

Becky Haas, director of student services, provided the school board during its March 22 meeting with a rundown on the numbers and the services her department provides, all of which have expanded in the past 10 school years.

“Thank you for your support,” Haas said to board members. “Without it, we wouldn’t be able to do all this.”

For the current school year, 702 students receive support either through an individual education plan or an instructional service plan, known as IEPs or ISPs. That’s more than 1 in 5 students enrolled in the district.

That number has grown. There were 550 students receiving services a decade ago, Haas said.

A slide that was shown at the Sterling Public Schools board of education meeting on March 22, 2023, showing physical therapist Susanna Riley at work with students. The director of students services for the district provided an update to board members.

Superintendent Tad Everett pointed out that in noting the comparison, the current enrollment is about 450 fewer students than in 2012-13, meaning the percentage is higher, too.

In that decade, the number of teachers engaged in special education grew from 29 to 41.

Instructors offering speech and language pathology have increased from five to eight. They are Cali Miles, Julie Penne, Jessica Moreno, Emily Narmann, Kelci Eakle, Tracy Fowkes, Maureen Marrandino and Angela Shaw.

Bi-County Special Education Cooperative augments offerings in Carroll and Whiteside counties by providing programming and staff.

There are now six social workers for Sterling public schools: Elisa Hippen is at Challand, Maggie Monnier is at Franklin, Sarah Peltier is at Sterling High School, Katrina Cornwell is at Jefferson, Shelby Melton is at Lincoln and Anna Hendrix is at Washington.

“Thank you for your support. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to do all this.”

—  Becky Haas, director of student services, Sterling Public Schools

A decade ago, there were two social workers, a part-time occupational therapist, a part-time physical therapist and the early childhood special education team.

Today, additions include a full-time certified occupational therapy assistant, three teachers for early childhood special education and a full-time speech language pathologist.

The district also employs 60 special education aides, a part-time tutor for homebound students and a part-time ISP manager for private schools.

Most of the students served – about 617 – are within the district’s six schools, although the district also is required to extend its services to others.

These include 37 students at private and parochial schools, 27 at the Thome School in Rock Falls, two at the Dolan Education Center in Durand, 10 at various therapeutic schools, two at a school for the deaf in Rockford and three at the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, two in residential settings, and two who are medically homebound.

More than 231 students qualify for services because of a specific learning disability, and 126 more qualify for a health impairment. The others receiving assistance are 112 in speech impairment, 97 in developmental delay, 51 for an emotional disability, 50 for autism, 19 for an intellectual disability, seven for hearing impairment and four for deafness, while three have multiple disabilities and two are visually impaired.

By service, this breaks down like this: 335 students require speech-language therapy, 142 need social work services, 80 require occupational therapy, 35 physical therapy, nine hearing services, four orthopedic services and three vision services.

Life Skills

Haas also described the successes of 46 students in the Life Skills program, which is reserved for students with an intellectual disability and/or an autism diagnosis. These students have an intelligence quotient below 70 and significant deficits in intellectual and adaptive functioning.

There are 16 students in high school, 12 in middle school, 10 in grades 3-5 and eight in K-2.

The Life Skills curriculum teaches skills to enhance employability and ability to live independently, and helps with communication and social interactions.

High school students participate in on-campus jobs, including the paper route, recycling, shredding, Kroger grocery pickup, and setup and cleanup in the cafe. Friday afternoon community outings include opportunities to practice vocational skills as well as fitness and social skills.

There are plans to provide additional programming, Haas said.

For high school students, this would mean exploring off-campus employment and access to independent living situations to practice daily independence. For middle school students, it could include scheduling time to work in the kitchen and scheduling outings to support skill development.

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Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.