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The News Gallery

November 2001

TESTING THE TECHNOLOGY - Special Education Teachers Receive Training in the Latest in Assistive Technology

News Gallery - November 2001 Editor: Rob Herman
Public Information Officer
(559) 733-6606

M.J. Alms, Cherí Barnes, Gary Biggs, Darlynn Billingsley, Esmeralda Cano, Veronica Carmona, Christine Chapman, Vicky Contreras, Jeanne Croson, Randy Elzig, Frank Escobar, Linda Hamilton, Margaret Ibarra, LouAnn King, Donna Martin, Rick Mitchell and Donna Orozco.

The News Gallery is published monthly with the exception of double issues printed for July/August and December/January. If you would like to receive the News Gallery, please contact Christine Chapman at (559) 733-6172 and provide your name and address.

On the cover above: Teachers receive hands-on training at a recent seminar hosted at the Technology Center in Visalia.

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Special Services' Technology Center Trains Teachers in the Latest Assistive Tools for Students

Technology in high and low forms has made our lives easier, more convenient and yes, sometimes more frustrating. We now enjoy a myriad of communication and organization devices from Palm Pilots to Post-It Notes all designed to make us more efficient, more effective and more successful. Technology has become such a part of our personal and business lives that we may forget its tremendous value.

To appreciate the gains technology affords us, one only has to look at how it is used by a child, particularly a child with special needs. Devices as common as personal computers and simple software enable students to read, communicate and more.

"Technology is just a part of the service and support we provide the teachers and students of Tulare County," says Tulare County Superintendent of Schools. "But without the one-on-one training for teachers and individualized planning for their students, the effectiveness of all our technology would be minimized. The staff and administrators within the Special Services division do a wonderful job of helping teachers, parents and students achieve success with the latest equipment available."

To serve students with special needs and assist their teachers, the Special Services Division of the Tulare County Office of Education operates an Assistive Technology Center, located adjacent to the Visalia Bright Start program in the Mission Oaks Plaza office complex. Currently, it is staffed by Technology Specialists Mike Aulds, Scott Unser and Robert Chism.

Students with disabilities such as deafness, blindness or orthopedic handicaps, and students who are severely handicapped can be referred to the Technology Center by members of the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team. School personnel can also refer students who may need to use technology for written work or in place of oral communication. The staff at the center then recommends equipment based on the needs and abilities of each student.

"Some of the most rewarding advances we've seen to help us serve students with special needs have been in the area of technology," says Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Dr. Marilyn Rankin. "Improvements are continually made to devices that aid hearing, sight, communication, mobility and early assessment."

Since the word "technology" tends to conjure up visions of high-tech equipment like speech synthesizers and laptop computers, it is important to note that technology is a much broader term. Pencil grips, calculators, tape recorders, specialized spoons and switches are all forms of assistive technology. In considering any type of assistive technology, the rule of thumb is to consider the simplest solutions first. Most "low tech" solutions can be planned and implemented within the student's classroom. When there appears to be a need for "high tech" solutions, a technology evaluation will be needed.

If a student has a goal of improving his or her handwriting, the IEP team should discuss what obstacles there might be. If the student has poor fine motor control, perhaps a pencil grip would assist in meeting the goal. If a student has a goal of improving reading comprehension but also has a visual processing deficit, the team might consider the use of tape recordings of books to be used together with the written material.

Other students may have much more complex needs. A student who has cerebral palsy and is physically unable to speak might have a goal to learn to communicate their needs. The IEP team would then discuss methods of communication that might work for this child. They might recommend the use of a picture communication system involving photographs or icons, or they might recommend an electronic device that "speaks" when a picture or icon is touched.

"We are field-testing some of the latest devices right now. One of them is a computer that can convert spoken language into text and/or sign language for students to see," says Special Services Administrator Rich Graham. "There are many products available. It's a time-consuming but rewarding process to research and test them so that we know that they will work for our students and remain a prudent use of our resources."

"Students with special needs may have limited control over some aspects of their learning experience," says Mr. Vidak. "But if we can make their environment better through the use of various types of technology, then it returns some of the control to the students. Like all of us, we appreciate technology when it helps us to be successful in our work."

To learn more about the Assistive Technology Center, call (559) 747-6122.

Photos above:
~ Trainer Sarah Hamilton works with a local teacher on a program that incorporates a touch keyboard (shown in the next photo).

~ Springville students work with a scanner that "reads" books through the computer.

~ Technology Specialist Mike Aulds helps a young student with an expanded keyboard, which operates communications software.

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Educational Excellence Cited at Annual Breakfast

The Seventh Annual Tulare County Excellence in Education Awards Recognition Breakfast will be held at the Visalia Convention Center Thursday, November 1, 2001. The event is a partnership between Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak and the Educational Employees Credit Union. This year, thirty nominations were submitted in the categories of teacher, administrator and school employee. "We're delighted with our winners and finalists," says Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "These awards are a nine-month process from nomination to award to recognition. Through the process, it's a treat to get to know each of these extraordinary people better and share in their achievements."

Tulare County Administrator of the Year honors go to Carlyn Lambert. With 31 years of service to the Visalia Unified School District, Carlyn is currently assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Educational Services. Because of her trustworthiness and history with the District, she was appointed Acting Superintendent from August to October 2000. She began her career as a kindergarten teacher at Crestwood School in Visalia and is described as a person who empowers others to be their best. Mrs. Lambert is active in her church; is president of Soroptimist International of Visalia; and a board member for both the Creative Center and the Very Special Arts Festival.

Terri Fishbough, a third-grade teacher at the Oak Valley Elementary School District, is the recipient of the Tulare County Teacher of the Year honors. In addition to her full-time class responsibilities, she is curriculum coordinator and lead teacher. Students have nicknamed her Mrs. Frizzle, after the cartoon science teacher who takes her class on exciting journeys. Terri Fishbough takes that as a compliment. She orchestrates educational opportunities that constantly relate subject matter to the "real world." Mrs. Fishbough is currently working toward a Clear Administrative Credential and Masters in Education Administration through Fresno Pacific University.

Janie Elson, Tulare County School Employee of the Year, has been the director for Healthy Start at the Lindsay Unified School District since 1993. She coordinates a rich array of services that were previously not available to residents of Lindsay. In addition to her regular responsibilities, Ms. Elson serves as secretary of the Lindsay Recreation Authority Board; is founder of the Tulare County Recreation and Teen Center Directors' Collaborative; and is an active member of the First Presbyterian Church. One of her greatest assets is the ability to work with children and families from many different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. She treats them all with dignity and respect.

Administrator of the Year finalists are Frances Holdbrooks, assistant superintendent from Lindsay Unified, and Dale Norton, dean of Academic Services at the College of the Sequoias. Teacher of the Year finalists include Pam Babcock, a first-grade teacher from Burton Elementary in Porterville, and Becky Richert, a first-grade teacher with Linwood Elementary in Visalia. School Employee of the Year finalists are Steve LaMar, a theater technician with the College of the Sequoias, and the late Manuel Rico, Director of Custodial and Grounds for Visalia Unified.

Photos above:
~ Best of the Best - 2001 Tulare County Administrator of the Year Carlyn Lambert, Teacher of the Year Terri Fishbough and School Employee of the Year Janie Elson.

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MOVE Program Expands to Serve Fourth County

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act placed a limit on how long a family could receive cash aid payments, called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) before their public assistance ended. These limits on how long a family could remain on welfare have been effective throughout the nation, with most states reporting a 30% decrease in their welfare caseloads. A robust national economy during the 1990s also had a great deal to do with helping people get off welfare and go to work.

But the great economic boom of the last decade escaped the San Joaquin Valley, especially in Tulare County. While the nation and the state of California experienced record-breaking unemployment rates below 4 percent for most of the decade, Tulare County fluctuated between 15 and 20 percent the highest in the nation.

With welfare reform in full swing, Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) administrators were challenged to help former welfare recipients get off TANF and into stable jobs recipients who often lacked high school diplomas, positive work histories and clean records along with good personal references. Services for Education and Employment (SEE) Administrator Lorene Valentino faced a related challenge. The SEE program had received an $8 million contract from Tulare County HHSA to train recipients through its vocational education program. Fortunately, a long-distance phone call to her sister in Ohio gave her an idea that has turned out to be a million-dollar saver to local government and hope for desperate families. Dr. Valentino's sister commented that unemployment was so low in the Midwest that many companies were lacking workers. With this in mind, Dr. Valentino determined through local HHSA that TANF funds could be used to relocate participants to other parts of the country where employment was plentiful.

In October 1998, the More Opportunities for Viable Employment (MOVE) program was started. Now three years later, over 900 TANF participants have been relocated and approximately 85 percent are still working in their new location. The savings to Tulare County are nearly $4 million per year, or nearly $12 million in its three years of operation. Due to the success of the MOVE Program, other counties have contracted with SEE to operate programs for their TANF participants. MOVE began serving Kings County in October 2000 and Fresno County in April 2001. A contract with Madera County began last month.

"I would like to commend the staff and administrators of the MOVE Program for their tenacity and creativity," said Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "While a long-term solution to our high unemployment may still be years away, I'm proud that the MOVE program has been able to offer some economic relief to Tulare, Kings, Fresno and now Madera Counties."

MOVE Program Staff: Frank Escobar is the supervisor of the Tulare and Kings County MOVE Programs and Karen Davidson is supervisor of the Fresno and Madera County MOVE Programs. The Visalia staff includes Rick Gonzales, Diana Martinez, Kristina Gonzales, Noe Larralde and Barbara Hays. Betty Middleton works in the Tulare office and Veda Gonzales and Benny Rivera are in Porterville. The Hanford office is staffed by Brenda Goeman and Debra Stimson. The Fresno office is staffed by Mary Flores, Peggy Vargas and Elvia Quintanilla.

Photo above:
~ All across the nation. A map in the Visalia office of the MOVE program charts the journeys of families who have relocated to new jobs outside the Central Valley.

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Gallery Notes

Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak has received the Outstanding Alumnus Award for the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at California State University Fresno. He will be recognized at the Top Dog Alumni Awards Gala on Friday, November 2, on the campus of Fresno State. Mr. Vidak is one of 12 alumni to receive this year's awards for each of the major colleges and schools within the University.

Mervyn's and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum have developed an interactive mobile exhibition designed to give fourth graders the opportunity to learn firsthand about the history, art and culture of California Missions. The exhibit, which is housed within a customized 72-foot big rig truck, will be available free of charge to Tulare County schools in March 2002. Space is limited, so teachers are encouraged to make reservations soon.
This unique learning experience was developed to meet and support the California state learning standards for history, visual arts and English in the fourth-grade curriculum. A team of English- and Spanish-speaking educators from the Fresno Metropolitan Museum will travel with Mervyn's Moving Mission introducing fourth graders and their teachers to the sights, sounds, and activities of mission life. Classroom teachers will be provided with resource packets in advance to help prepare students for their tours. Inside Mervyn's Moving Mission, students will receive an introduction to the missions through a time line and a map of California highlighting the locations of all 21 missions. As students move through the truck, they will learn about various aspects of the missions including art and conservation, home and shelter, and food and family. For reservation information, please contact Angela Burke at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum at (559) 441-1444, extension 213. More information can also be obtained at www.fresnomet.org.

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Jim Vidak, County Superintendent of Schools
Tulare County Office of Education
All mail to: P.O. Box 5091, Visalia, CA 93278-5091
Physical address: 6200 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia, CA 93277
phone: (559) 733-6300 • fax: (559) 627-5219

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