A public forum last week with Bexley City School District Superintendent Kimberly Pietsch Miller and representatives from parent group Bexley Education Stronger Together marked the start of an effort to evaluate and improve special education programs.

About 100 people, including parents, educators, city officials and community members, attended the meeting at the Bexley Public Library.

Miller said the forum grew out of a series of meetings that she and BEST representatives have had since Miller joined the district in August. The forum is part of an overall effort on the district's part to look at its special education programs and increase communication with parents, Miller said.

"We're trying to take steps in the right direction to improve -- not saying that we were bad, but how do we get better?" she said.

BEST co-chairmen Shana Levin, April Walsh and David Tetzloff have relayed information from their meetings with Miller to the rest of the group's nearly 100 members, Tetzloff said. The forum provided an opportunity for others to pose questions to Miller directly, he said.

"It kind of came to the point where both Kim (Miller) and we felt it would be good to get information out there," he said. "We also felt it would be good to get some questions from the community that she could answer."

During the forum, Miller gave an overview of the tools the district uses to implement special education; practices at individual schools, such as how teachers prepare special-education lesson plans that substitute teachers can use; and how the district is working to close achievement gaps among students from racial minority groups.

Miller said the district will conduct a survey this month of parents of children who have individualized education plans, which spell out a student's learning needs, the services the school will provide and how progress is measured.

"And we'll do an end-of-year survey as well," Miller said. "We want to keep saying, 'Where are we? Give us feedback. Where are we getting better? ... How can we continue to improve?' "

In addition, Bexley High School has initiated an audit of its special education programs, which is being conducted by a team from the Ohio Department of Education, Miller said.

"It probably won't be finished until the end of February or March," she said. "We also plan to extend the audit to all the other schools in the district.

"As we improve programming, we have to keep evaluating ... and we want to keep doing that because that's the only way we get better," she said.

Miller said she will continue to meet regularly with BEST leaders and is open to having additional public forums to address specific areas of special education.

Bexley Board of Education member Michelle Mineo, who is a speech therapist, said the forum demonstrates a willingness among district administrators and parents to identify best practices for special education.

"It's exciting to see the enthusiasm and how well it was attended -- administrators, educators, parents," she said. "When you have all these people coming together for a conversation, we're able to move forward."

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