A year after becoming the Aiken County School District’s Special Programs director, Cassie Cagle searched for administrators and psychologists within the District and beyond.

Most people may not realized that in a District of 24,000 students, about 3,000 have Individual Educational Programs, also known as IEPs.

That means they have special needs in a wide range of specific issues, including cognitive and physical issues. Their parents participate formally in those meetings with teachers and district staffers. The District has 250 teachers and paraprofessionals who work with these students.

In the past, “We’ve added people, but hadn’t examined how it’s set up in the best interests of the students,” Cagle said at a meeting for principals and assistant principals last week.

As a part of that process, the department restructured some key alignments. Previously, the District employed about 20 special education coordinators and 18 psychologists.

The number of coordinator positions has been reduced, and those jobs will be more specialized – such as curriculum improvement, instruction and programming. They will do research, as well as differentiate professional development for teachers and staff, according a document prepared by Cagle.

“Previously, the psychologists assisted three or four schools, primarily doing testing,” said Phillip Young, the new administrator of evaluation and student support. “They were spread out and not part of the faculty.”

Most will now serve two school or in some cases, one, in greatly expanded duties. During the meeting, Cagle cited those changes. The psychologists will work with teachers to provide support for them and their academically- and behaviorally-challenged children. In addition, they will provide related services, such as counseling and group therapy, for children with IEPs.

In elementary schools, the Special Programs Department is moving toward increased focus on an “inclusion” model – helping children participate more in traditional classes. Specialists will work with those teachers to set up specific instructional programs. Some specialists can work with intellectually disabled children and others with behavior issues.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.