Daily Herald
Special ed cooperative still innovative after 40 years
By Eileen O. Daday | Daily Herald Correspondent
Published: 8/27/2009 2:18 PM

Veteran teacher Marion Timmons, starting her 30th year working with special needs students at Kirk School in Palatine, wasted no time getting going.

After getting acclimated to her new group of junior high students on Wednesday, she plunged right in on Thursday tackling a curriculum that involves heavy use of the computer.

Timmons works with students with multiple disabilities, including physical and mental impairments, but that doesn't stop her from integrating technology into the classroom.

She points to specialized programs that use single switches for students to activate the computer. They can access literacy programs - one of Timmons' favorites, stories, movement exercises and music, all with one click of a switch.

"Many of them have multi-sensory issues, so they need to have programs that stimulate all of their senses," Timmins says. "That's why they always love the ones that include music."

Timmins was one of three 30-year teachers in the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization who were honored as mentors in the district Monday during a 40th anniversary celebration of NSSEO's founding. The others were her colleague Lynne Summer at Kirk and Cindy Marcinkowski at Miner School in Arlington Heights.

NSSEO was one of the first special education cooperatives in the state. Right from the start, administrators pooled specialized faculty and resources to serve students with special needs from eight suburban school districts.

Christopher Koch, Illinois Superintendent of Education, was a featured speaker at the celebration, which drew more than 400 faculty, staff and board members to fill the ballroom at the Sheraton Chicago Northwest in Arlington Heights.

"You are a beacon in the state," Koch said. "When I look for better practices in IT, transition plans, assessment and responses to intervention, I look here."

A PowerPoint presentation took people through the last 40 years. Teachers reminisced about their years before computers and when teacher salaries were just over $5,000, and talked of today's classrooms, which look to incorporate technology, especially in special education, where adaptive equipment helps students achieve.

"We simply do better when we embrace the changes of the times," Marcinkowski said. "It's all about progress."

Koch assured the teachers, that despite deep concern over the state budget and education funding, there was no better opportunity for reform than right now.

He described improvements being made at the state level in assessment procedures, and measuring students' learning, as well as an improved data collection system, allowing school officials to track children's progress from preschool through college, including obtaining their high school transcripts.

"As practitioners, we want you to have less mandates and less paperwork, allowing you to focus on students' learning," Koch said. "Our sole purpose is looking at what students can do, as opposed to what they can't, and focusing on their disabilities."

Timmins already does that as she gently pushes her students to do more on the computers in her classroom.

"I think these programs must have been designed by adults with spinal chord injuries, but they're opening up all new things for my students," Timmins says. "The world is finally acknowledging that these children want to have access to the same information, only in a different manner."

Facts about NSSEO

The Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization was formed 40 years ago to provide for the needs of special education students in the Northwest suburbs.

Districts served: 21, 23, 25, 26, 57, 59, 211, 214

Communities served: Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, and Wheeling, at the preschool and elementary school level, and at the high school level in Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Elk Grove, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, and Wheeling

Students served: 7,000

Student in its service area: 55, 828

NSSEO day schools: Timber Ridge at the Gillet Educational Center and Miner School, both in Arlington Heights; Kirk School in Palatine

NSSEO classrooms: Riley School in Arlington Heights and London Middle School in Wheeling.

NSSEO programming: Throughout all of the member districts