Successful Local School Programs Being Observed by the State

by Placerville Newswire / Nov 19, 2017 / comments

[Dina Gentry, EDCOE Communications Director. Pictured (L): Dana Mendonca, Instructional Assistant Autism, teaches students at Rescue Elementary School socialization and word association; (R) At El Dorado High School, Jared Parker asks students questions which they answer in a variety of ways.]

Over the past few years, El Dorado County Office of Education’s (EDCOE) Special Services Department has placed focus and intentionality on quality instruction and increased capacity for all educators through training and collaboration to improve outcomes for all students. As a result of this strategy’s success in the classroom, the California Department of Education (CDE) was invited to observe two models of promising practices in El Dorado County. In October, representatives from CDE, including CDE Director of Special Education Kristin Wright, visited Rescue Elementary and El Dorado High Schools to explore two innovative programs that serve students with disabilities. After the morning bell at Rescue Elementary School, the group was greeted by County Superintendent Dr. Ed Manansala and EDCOE Executive Director of Special Services Amy Andersen. “Welcome and thank you for coming,” Mrs. Andersen expressed. “We look forward to this opportunity to show you how our programs provide every student the chance to thrive.”

EDCOE Administrator Christy Ploszaj, who coordinates these programs, gave a brief overview of the exemplary work that is made possible by dedicated team members and strong partnerships with the Rescue Union School District team. “This program addresses the needs of students with autism at ages preschool through 5th grade in the areas of academics, communications, socialization, and behavior. We use evidence-based practices that teach prerequisite skills necessary for increased access to the learning environment. The staffing formula is one educator to two students to provide the greatest impact on skill development and behavioral intervention. Students integrate into the general education setting with adult support for recesses, lunch, and other activities as appropriate.” A classroom observation showed the CDE representatives the practical application of this framework.       

At El Dorado High School, EDCOE Director of Student Services, Betty Connolly, joined the group and explained, “This program is a great example of collaboration between EDCOE, the El Dorado Union High School District, and general/special education teachers to help students build skills that will make them successful.”  Visitors then entered a classroom alive with energy, as students with moderate to severe disabilities participated in various activities and answered questions through different modalities of learning such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. 

For example, when teacher Jared Parker asked the question “What is the force that pulls a falling glass from a table to the ground?” One student raises her hand and answers, “Gravity!” Another student approaches the illuminated smart board at the front of the classroom and selects the card labeled ‘gravity’ that also pictures an object’s downward motion. This program serves students who have a wide array of disabilities, including autism, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, visual impairments, deaf and hard of hearing, and orthopedic impairments. The level of support needed for each student varies greatly, and educators work as a team with the El Dorado Union High School District to ensure students receive what they need to succeed.

The unique teaching philosophy of this program focuses on the vision that any student, regardless of a disability, can succeed in a general education class given the appropriate amount of support. For example, one female student had a keen interest in English and literature, so educators made it possible for her to attend David Conrad’s English class with her general education peers. “When she was introduced into the classroom, the method in which I delivered my lessons did not actually change, but she was given the assistance she needed to communicate back to me,” he stated.

At the conclusion of the visits, Kristin Wright expressed her gratitude and noted, “It’s eye-opening to see these practices implemented at the classroom level and not simply working, but succeeding for students. We would be interested in other areas where your educators and students excel.”

For more information about EDCOE’s programs, visit