Clarity Requested

Posted by Angie Balsley on 11/17/2017 7:00:00 AM

Hi Angie,  

I’ve been reading your articles about the changes from RtI to MTSS. I appreciate the base knowledge and learning more about how psychologists can work with the building-based teams as we grow our local capacity to proactively support students’ social-emotional learning. I have some question though. What happened to the role of the Program Support personnel through the co-op? How about Behavior Coaches? Or I think they are called “Skills Specialists” now? I believe this is all great work. I’m just seeking some additional clarity.  

Signed, A Dedicated Educator  


Hello Dedicated Educator!

Thank you for asking these fantastic questions! When we initiate this type of shift in practice, it evokes many questions for all us. I appreciate you taking the time to inquire further. I encourage your colleagues to reach out to me as well.

The model of “Program Support” was a part of Johnson County for many years! In fact, Dr. Joe Easterday recently shared with me that he brought the idea to us from northwest Indiana. When I moved here, I had not heard of this model before. Over time, I learned that our Program Support personnel provided valuable service to our schools. They helped school teams problem-solve, provided supports to teachers, assisted with the development of behavior plans, transitioned students back from New Connections, and did pretty much anything needed to help kids be successful in their least restrictive environment. We had the most AMAZING team of professionals over the years!!! Really~ they were legends and true champions for kids.

As you are likely aware, we’ve been working over the past several years to build local capacity in our districts. Part of this has led to having a local special education director in each district. To add this position in some of our smaller districts, the new local director absorbed the role of the program support personnel. This sparked our shift away from the program support model. In the 2016-17 school year, only three of our districts still had a dedicated program support person. As our organization has evolved and personnel have transitioned to new roles or retirement, we have capitalized on the opportunity to realign our supports to districts. That realignment resulted in moving away from the Program Support model this school year. I will be the first to admit that this change has left some significant holes in our schools who relied most heavily on this resource. I’ve been working closely with the local directors and principals to manage the needs within the buildings in alternate ways.

While our school psychologists have increased their involvement in supporting students’ behavioral, social, and emotional needs, their role is different from the previous program support model. Psychologists and program support share their passion and ability to think, analyze, and problem solve. They share the vision of student success in the least restrictive environment. The biggest difference is that psychologists have an assessment caseload that program support did not. They are still required to work within the law and the federally monitored timelines. The resulting impact of this is that our school psychologists are not able to be “responders.”  

You also inquired about our Skills Specialists. You’re correct. They do have a new name this year. We employ fourteen Skills Specialists who work either within the districts or New Connections. The intention of the Behavior Coaches was a train and fade support model. Over the years, local need often times resulted in a more reactive use of Behavior Coaches and a longer-term assignment than what was intended. In order to assist schools in the implementation of the MTSS vision, we have aligned the work of the Skills Specialist under the School Psychologists. Like all changes, this too is a work in progress. We couldn’t just immediately end the old model and leave giant service gaps for our students. As the Skills Specialists evolve into their new role, you can expect to see them spread through the entire school district. They will be working with students to implement evidence-based practices to teach the desired skills. They will also be collecting data and helping students to generalize their skills.

Again, I appreciate your questions and encourage others to share their thoughts and ideas with me as well.

Kind Regards,