Important Message from the Superintendent

Important Message from the Superintendent
Posted on 06/01/2017

Dear Parents,

As my first school year as superintendent of schools for Leander ISD draws to a close, I would like to thank the community for the warm welcome that I have received.

During these past nine months, I have made it my mission to get to know our district, campuses, principals, teachers, students and programs. LISD is a continuous improvement district, I have looked at all areas through the lens of finding ways to make great programs better. One of those programs is Special Education, which includes services geared toward assisting LISD students with disabilities.

As a public school district, we comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or “IDEA.” This federal law requires public schools to identify qualifying students with disabilities who have an educational need for specialized instruction and provide them with a free, appropriate public education. This is accomplished by developing an Individualized Education Program, or “IEP,” for every student who receives special education.

Leander ISD currently serves more than 4,000 students through special education. This number includes students who may attend all general education classes but with special education supports, as well as students who have more significant disabilities and require one-on-one support throughout the school day. This number does not include students with disabilities who require only accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 is another federal law that requires public schools to provide accommodations to allow students with disabilities equal access to their education. Leander ISD currently provides accommodations to more than 4,000 students through Section 504 Accommodation Plans or Individual Health Plans.

To fully understand how LISD is serving students with special needs, I have engaged in a comprehensive review of our special education programs and services. During my first few months at LISD, I visited every campus and met with every principal. I have returned to many campuses for more in-depth meetings. In total, I made more than 100 campus visits. I also met with our Senior Executive Director of Federal Programs and our Director of Special Education to get a better understanding of the different types of special education services and supports offered throughout our district. Leander ISD has a variety of programs and services across a broad spectrum, from inclusion support in the general education classroom, to structured classrooms geared toward assisting students with autism, to programs assisting students 18-21 years old who are transitioning to post-secondary life.

Additionally, I held several meetings with parents across the district whose children receive special education services, and along with the LISD Board of Trustees, heard presentations from administrators regarding staff in our special education programs.

Over the course of my review of our special education programs and services, I listened intently to stories from students, parents, employees and community members about their experiences with special education. Leander ISD is fortunate to have robust special education programs, engaged parents and strong support from the community. One example of our strong community support includes our work-based learning program in which students who are learning life skills also have the ability to gain valuable work experience, with staff assistance, to help them transition to life beyond high school. These programs could not exist without the dedication and compassion of LISD staff, many of whom have a personal connection to children with disabilities. The district supports the campus staff through layered support at central office, including specialists in behavior, autism, low-incidence disabilities, and more. We are exceptionally proud of our students and our special education program.

As a continuous improvement district, we always strive to make our programs better. Our special education staff receive professional development on a routine basis, and they continue to adapt to the changing needs of our students. As new technologies become available, we determine how we can use these to better assist our students. And as guidance is provided from educational agencies, we continuously train staff on compliance with these guidelines. Over the past year, the United States Department of Education has issued guidance on a range of issues, including Response to Intervention, or “RtI,” which is one method schools use to determine whether or not students require special education. When a student is not meeting grade-level expectations, teachers may try a variety of classroom interventions targeted at improving the area of need. If the student responds to the intervention, special education is not warranted. If the student does not respond to the intervention, the student may be referred for a special education evaluation. The Department of Education has clarified that schools’ use of RtI cannot delay or deny an evaluation if school staff suspect that the student may require special education.

Use of RtI, and the number of students receiving special education, became the source of much scrutiny this past year in Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) was accused of placing a “cap” of 8.5 percent on the number of enrolled students who could receive special education. The Texas Education Agency responded to these concerns and explained that this number is a relative indicator, not a cap or limit on the number or percent of students that school districts can or should serve in special education. Leander ISD has always had a percentage of its students receiving special education well over the 8.5 percent indicator. We are currently closer to 11 percent, and that does not include students who receive accommodations or supports under Section 504. Leander ISD has never received guidance from TEA to reduce that number, or limit any student from receiving special education services.

As part of its inquiry into TEA’s guidance on special education enrollment, the Department of Education conducted “listening sessions” throughout the state in November and December and returned in February and March for site-visits at selected school districts. Leander ISD was one of the selected districts. During the visit, the Department of Education indicated that it would provide guidance to TEA at a later date, but would not provide guidance to any specific school district. Therefore, we will await any guidance that may be provided to TEA, which in turn will provide guidance directly to Texas public school districts.

As we wait to receive information from TEA, I am writing to you to update you on my personal commitment to ensure that the needs of all students in LISD are being properly met. We welcome the opportunity to review information regarding guidance on Texas schools’ procedures and practices that the Department of Education may provide in the coming weeks.

Once again, thank you for welcoming me to Leander ISD. I am humbled to lead a district that is singularly focused on serving all students and leading them to bright futures.


Dan Troxell, Ph.D.