Register now for Supervision of Special Education

A program for Administrators, Educators, & AEA Staff

The primary focus is on the intent of special education law/rules/procedures as they relate to foundational concepts. These foundational concepts include FAPE, LRE, and Procedural Due Process with an emphasis on meaningful parental involvement, and outcomes/benefit. Emphasis will be on the administrator’s role in understanding and overseeing these concepts.

Dates & Locations
Albia (8:30-4:30): March 13 and April 16
Burlington (8:30-4:30): March 19 and April 2
Ottumwa (8:30-4:30): March 29 and April 17

Register Online!

Relicensure Credit: $50
Audit: $20

There will be PowerPoint materials available. However, the majority of the time will be spent in discussion and dialogue about how these big ideas play out in day-to-day processes.

Supervision of Special Education Brochure

Input from Iowans wanted at meetings about state’s No Child Left Behind waiver request

Iowa Department of Education News Release

DES MOINES, IA – The Iowa Department of Education will give Iowans a chance to weigh in on a plan to request a waiver from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act during a statewide series of public meetings from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9.

Department leaders will visit all nine Area Education Agencies in Iowa, starting with AEA 267 in Cedar Falls on Jan. 31 and ending with Northwest AEA in Sioux City and Prairie Lakes AEA in Pocahontas on Feb. 9. (Click here for a complete schedule of meeting dates, times and locations.)

Great Prairie AEA Regional Meetings – February 2, 2012
GPAEA Ottumwa ICN Room (origination site)
GPAEA Burlington ICN Room
Albia High School ICN Room

11:00-12:45 Administrators and board members
1:30-2:45 Students
4:00-5:45 Teachers
6:00-7:45 Parents/community members, SES providers, and community organizations/ business/board members

The Department will present details about Iowa’s waiver request and plans to develop a new accountability system that puts student achievement first but also focuses on student growth and assessments that align with the Iowa Core standards.

In September, the U.S. Department of Education invited states to apply for flexibility from specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state-developed plans.

Iowa’s application will be submitted by Feb. 21.

States must address the following principles in their waiver applications:  College and career-ready expectations for all students; state-developed systems for differentiated recognition, accountability and support; and support for effective instruction and leadership, including new guidelines for local teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.

In a new video, Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass addresses the purpose of Iowa’s waiver request.

Iowans who are unable to attend the public meetings can submit comments in writing to until 4 p.m. on Feb. 1.

For more information, go to

Media Advisory
Jan. 13, 2012

For More Information:
Staci Hupp

The Cornerstone – January 2012

The January 2012 issue of The Cornerstone is now available! Scroll down to read articles or click on titles below. You can also download a PDF copy. Enjoy!

Child Find, RTI and Healthy Indicators
Professional Development Updates
Role and Function of the Educational Equity Coordinator
Collaborating to Build Social Skills
Assistive Technology Works for Student with Autism
Iowa AEA Online Database Focus: Atomic Learning
Students can help ‘Write Women Back into History’
Program takes girls from classroom to Capitol
LETRS – Literacy “on Steroids!”
Educating in the Cloud: Google Apps for Education
United States Senate Youth Program Selects Local High School Delegate
Iowa’s AEAs Impacting Lives
Total Science Safety Workshop

Download a PDF copy of The Cornerstone January

Child Find, RTI and Healthy Indicators

Dr. Jon Sheldahl, Chief Administrator

In recent years, the federal Office of Special Education Programs in Washington D.C, known simply as OSEP to most of us, has downgraded special education practices and performance in Iowa’s public schools.  In an effort to improve its grade for special education programs, the state department of education has taken strides to not only reduce the percentage of entitled individuals in the state, but to also improve the academic achievement of students identified in the current system.  Iowa has one of the highest percentages of special education students in the nation and, at the same time, has achievement levels for special education students far below the national average.  The achievement gap between students identified for special education and those not identified is one of the largest in the nation.  We are being taken to task for both over-identification and low academic performance.

The result of all this is a new system of child identification embedded in the RTI model.  I see frustration at times in both AEA and LEA staff when it comes to how students are being identified for special education. Part of what causes some of this frustration is the persistent belief held by some that intelligence is largely innate and fixed.  We now know from twin research and advanced MRI technology that as much as 75% of an adolescent’s intelligence is the result of environmental factors and that IQ scores can be raised as a result of sufficient high quality instruction.  That’s a frightening paradigm shift for educators.  It’s certainly a call for universal preschool and extended school programs for at-risk students, but it’s an equally powerful plea for quality core instruction.  We have always believed we could help kids achieve at higher levels, but the belief that we can actually make them smarter is a newer notion and, while a bit frightening, it’s an exciting one!

Read more at Dr. Jon Sheldahl’s Blog

Professional Development Updates

To register for any class and access details about instructors, fees, dates and locations, please visit our Course Catalog!

Assessing Academic Rigor Evaluator III
February 20 in Burlington

Para Educator Generalist Certificate Classes
**Please note that in order to apply for a generalist certificate, you must complete all 3 Para Courses

Para I:  February 1 in Burlington
Para II:  March 7 in Burlington
Para III:  April 4 in Burlington

Para Educator Advanced Certificate Classes:  These classes allow you to renew and add an area of concentration to your para certificate.  Please note that you must hold a Generalist Certificate in order to register for these classes!

Para Educators Speech and Language Pathology January 11 in Fairfield
Para Educators in Early Childhood Settings February 18 in Burlington
Area of Concentration:  Special Needs February 4 in Ottumwa

Human Relations Class
March 24 in Mt. Pleasant

Substitute Authorization Course:  This course is for those who want to substitute teach in grades 6-12 and do not hold an Iowa License.  You must have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree to take this course.

Ottumwa:  Starts February 1
Burlington:  Starts February 28

Newly Posted Classes

  • Conflict Transformation starts January 17 in Burlington
  • Winter Solstice 2012-Listening to the Land starts Feb. 3 at Lake Rathbun
  • Elementary Music Strategies that Work starts Feb. 11 in Ottumwa
  • Total Science Safety System Workshop Feb. 28 in Burlington and Ottumwa (please note that this is not available for license renewal credit)
  • Nine Essential Skills for the Love and Logic Classroom Basic starts March 8 in Burlington
  • Nine Essential Skills for the Love and Logic Classroom Advanced starts April 5 in Burlington

Dinosaurs and the Geology of the Rocky Mountains starts January 17 in Choteau, MT.

Collaborating to Build Social Skills

Melissa and friends

A lot of important learning happens at Moravia Elementary, but for some students making friends can be the most challenging and exciting part of school.  Melissa Hanson is a 4th grade student at Moravia Elementary who was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder.  When she was younger, she had difficulty making and keeping friends, along with other difficulties that the diagnosis brought.  Melissa’s mom, Kirsten, has been an incredible advocate for providing educational information to Moravia staff and seeing that Melissa gets the supports she needs to be successful in school.

Mary Echterling, Occupational Therapist, made the connection with School Social Worker Pat Merrick to provide support for Melissa’s social skills.  Beginning in 1st grade, Pat worked with Melissa on developing social skills she could share with the class, such as a personalized photo book.  By 2nd grade, the social skills group grew to include other peers and the school psychologist, Jennifer Adams. Activities have included a nail-painting party, a tea party, a football party, and most recently a trip to outer space where the students brought back messages of friendship to share with their other classmates.  The process of skill building included small groups with female peers and has grown to include anyone in the class who returns a parent permission slip.

When asked how she feels about her friends at Moravia, Melissa said, “The fun things I get to do with them make me want to have more friends.”

When asked about Melissa’s growth, Pat Merrick noted that she really wanted to make friends, but had a lot of difficulty doing so.  She had many sensory issues that interrupted her ability to connect with others.  She would follow peers around the lunchroom, but not be able to engage with them.  Now, “She likes having friends AND her friends enjoy her.”  Peers seek Melissa out for her play skills on the playground, as well as the cool things she brings to school.

While many students pick up social skills just by being around others, for some students it truly takes a team working together to build skills.  Melissa’s mom, Kirsten, Mary Echterling, and Pat Merrick have worked with Melissa’s teachers across school grades to promote Melissa’s friendship skills and the payoff is evident.  Melissa said, “I like a lot more friends and a lot more of them like me.”

Jennifer Adams, School Psychologist
800-622-0027 ext. 5821

Photo: Melissa Hanson (pictured right) with 4th grade friends including Isabelle, Will, and Aliyah

Assistive Technology Works for Student with Autism

Colton with GPAEA Special Education Consultant Kathy Achenbach

Colton Dommer, a junior high student from Moravia, popped his head into the classroom and immediately asked his teacher if he would be riding the bus home. When his teacher responded that he would, Colton asked if he could use the restroom and off he went. This sounds like a very common exchange between a student and his teacher, except that Colton is a student with autism and he does not verbally communicate at all. Colton attends general education classes as well as receives special education instruction and assistance. He also communicates with his teachers, other school staff, and his peers. Colton accomplishes all of these normal school tasks with the help of assistive technology.

Colton has used a communication device for a number of years. Teresa Halstead, the Great Prairie AEA Speech- Language Pathologist for Moravia and Kathy Achenbach, the Special Education Consultant as well as assistive technology team member, have worked with Colton since he was in preschool.  They had tried a number of communication devices with Colton from PECs (Picture Exchange Communication System) to high-end communication gadgets. The problem with a number of the devices tried was that they were not portable enough to be used to communicate with a number of people. It was also difficult to understand what Colton was trying to say and some were just plain bulky and hard to take from setting to setting. Melissa Thomas, the Special Education Teacher that has worked with Colton since third grade, was frustrated with the lack of versatility of the devices tried. She wanted something that would allow Colton to express wants/needs as well as be portable enough to take to all of the places a student travels in the school setting. It was also crucial that Mrs. Thomas be able to program multiple class tasks and responses that would allow Colton meaningful access to the general education curriculum and be easy and quick to program.  A trial with an iPad with an extensive communication application matched much of the criteria as well as producing effective results.

Some examples of the general education tasks Mrs. Thomas has been able to program for Colton include developing modified text (matched with visuals) with questions for science and social studies tasks. A unit on Martin Luther King was adapted for use on the iPad with text and questions to match the general education curriculum. Several math tasks including money, measurement and computation were placed on the iPad program for Colton to use in his math class.  Colton has begun job shadowing as part of a pre-vocational program. Much of the communication that Colton would need to use while completing his job has also been placed on the iPad program. He can now ask for various supplies or tools that he needs to complete the job using his portable iPad program.  Any of the greetings that he makes to teachers, staff and peers are all included for Colton to access even during unplanned encounters. Colton can even play a game of ‘Go Fish’ with another student with the communication needed pre-programmed.  Other iPad apps have been added to Colton’s program to help reinforce skills as well as for entertainment purposes. One app is used to display Colton’s daily schedule. This way, Colton’s schedule is always available for him to check and it is easy to change the events if needed.

Colton continues to need instruction and practice to properly communicate during varied social situations as well as general education tasks. Mrs. Halstead remains involved with Colton on a consultative basis to help with these needs. Mrs. Thomas is continually on the look-out for ways she can take a general education or IEP task and utilize the iPad to help Colton better show what he knows. Colton’s mother is pleased with Colton’s ability to better express his wants and needs as well as his increased independence. Most importantly, Colton can also tell her if he is not feeling well. She, along with Colton’s whole team, is dedicated to helping him better communicate in all situations and settings.

For more information about the strategies and iPad apps used with Colton, please contact Kathy Achenbach at

Kathy Achenbach, Special Education Consultant

800-382-8970 Ext. 5825

Iowa AEA Online Database Focus: Atomic Learning

Atomic Learning is not one of the new databases for 2011-12, but has huge implications for your school’s professional growth using technology.  When we added Atomic Learning a few years ago, the focus was on tutorials – short video clips that showed you how to add columns in an Excel file, insert images into PPTs, and answer other questions on Office, InDesign, PhotoShop, Googledocs, Clicker4, ActivInspire, Kurzweil and many more applications.  There are 50,000 step-by-step technology tutorials including topics such as podcasting, Netbooks, iPads, and Facebook to name just a few.

But, it can do so much more!

Educator Accounts
Every teacher in GPAEA has an individual Educator account with Atomic Learning.  This simple step allows you to plan and implement small groups, grade level groups, building or district level groups to learn as a team about using technology and 21st century skills.

Staff members with Admin Rights for your building can set up assessments, schedule assigned or recommended training.  Each individual Educator has access to his own ePortfolio.  Plus, this year only, Atomic Learning will also help you set up student accounts, for free.  Currently, the students can take a 24 or 48-assessment survey, but with individual accounts, they also have more functionality on the site.

Your individual Educator account is based on your SNAP UN/PW.  Your district may be interested in adding additional admin rights to more teachers.  Please see your media/tech staff for more information!

Lesson Planning
Atomic Learning features projects, workshops and lessons.  One example from the section on 21st Century Skills, Cyberbullying, No Way, Not Me, is a project on using blogs.

The teacher resources include handouts, step by step planning and video links for all technology.

Assistive Tech resources are also included in our collection and you can search by standards, both Common Core and the NETS standards.

Atomic Learning has two types of assessments.

  • Tech Skills Assessment for students based on ISTE NETS-S 2007
  • 21st Century Skills Assessment for teachers based on ISTE NETS-T 2008 — a 40-question assessment from a rotating bank provides an indication of 21st century skills knowledge.

Pre and post testing, plus a simple ten-point self-assessment can help your staff and students reach goals for their own learning.

Spotlight Menu
In 2011, they have just added their Spotlight Menu, which features the following topics –

  • Collaborating with a Global Community
  • Creating Engaging Presentations
  • Effective Online Teaching and Learning
  • Engaging with Interactive Whiteboards
  • Evaluating Web Resources
  • Supporting Accessible Instruction
  • Video Storytelling in the Classroom

All of which provide detailed material (in the Atomic Learning way with short video clips) on how we can reach these objectives through four areas – Build your understanding / Put this concept into Practice / Reflect and Apply / and Access to Reference Tools.  See this in action through the Spotlight on Effective Online Teaching & Learning at

Kristin Steingreaber, GPAEA Media Specialist

800-382-8970 ext. 5265

LETRS – Literacy “on Steroids!”

In February of 2011 GPAEA Consultants embarked upon a learning experience that has now been expanded statewide.  Shauna Cutler, Jaci Jarmes and Lori Denz received the first four of thirty-two days of literacy training.  Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) was described that first day as a graduate level learning opportunity in the area of literacy, “on steroids!”

LETRS is not a program of any kind and it does not promote the use of specific programs.  It does however build participant understanding of the underlying processes that facilitate reading in the brain.  State of the art neurological imaging technology and increased attention to the reading achievement of students with disabilities has provided the “perfect storm” for the advancement of research in the field of literacy.  The LETRS materials and authors access the most current of this to build a deep understanding of how to most effectively teach all children to read and write proficiently.  The latest version of some of the modules of LETRS that the training has focused on is only now being published so that the learning is based always on the latest research available.  LETRS continually update the modules to keep current with latest research.

LETRS is made up of 12 Modules

  1. The Challenge of Learning to Read
  2. The Speech Sounds of English: Phonetics, Phonology, and Phoneme Awareness
  3. Spellography for Teachers: How English Spelling Works
  4. The Mighty Word: Building Vocabulary and Oral Language
  5. Getting Up to Speed: Developing Fluency
  6. Digging for Meaning: Teaching Text Comprehension
  7. Teaching Phonics, Word Study, and the Alphabetic Principle
  8. Assessment for Prevention and Early Intervention (K–3)
  9. Teaching Beginning Spelling and Writing
  10. Reading Big Words: Syllabication and Advanced Decoding
  11. Writing: A Road to Reading Comprehension
  12. Using Assessment to Guide Instruction (Grade 3–adult)

As you can see from the list of modules none of the Big Five components of a balanced literacy program have been neglected.  In addition to phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency with text, vocabulary, and comprehension, specific attention is paid to the role assessment and writing play in achieving full literacy.

Teachers who engage in this learning will develop background knowledge in the linguistic elements of reading and skills in the use of classroom diagnostic assessment.  This knowledge and skill will enable them to dig down to the root cause of individual student learning difficulty and develop targeted interventions that accelerate the pace of learning for students who struggle.  The course also introduces participants to a wealth of resources that support targeted skills instruction.  GPAEA has added a coaching component that LETRS does not include.  Regional LETRS trainers support participating teachers, on sight, as they implement new knowledge and skills in their classroom.

Great Prairie AEA currently has teachers from eight districts involved in year 1 training and four districts involved in year 2 training.  Many Great Prairie staff members are participating in the training with the schools they support.  Three schools districts are currently sending teachers to become certified trainers for LETRS.  They will then be able to train teachers within their districts (Centerville, Burlington and Fairfield). Great Prairie is sending five additional staff members to become certified trainers for LETRS so that they can provide training to more teachers within Great Prairie AEA.

If you are interested in learning more about how to access training in LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) feel free to contact Lori Denz (, Jaci Jarmes ( or Shauna Cutler (

Lori Denz, Special Education Consultant
(800) 382-8970 ext. 1300

Educating in the Cloud: Google Apps for Education

More and more districts are “going Google” throughout our region.  Out of the 34 school districts in our region, 29 have created Google Apps for Education domains, and two others are in the process of setting up their domains.

What is Google Apps for Education?

A Google Apps for Education domain is different from regular Google or GMail.  A Google Apps for Education domain is an enterprise-level cloud computing system of tools.  These domains are free for schools, and they provide more storage and more options for sharing and collaboration than regular Google accounts.  Most importantly, the data in the Google Apps for Education is owned and controlled by the school district.

The accounts not only provide more options and flexibility, but they allow districts to create and manage their faculty, staff, and student Google accounts.  Districts can enable or disable all of the Google Apps tools, including Google Apps Mail, Contacts, Documents, Calendar, Sites, Talk, Video, and Groups.  And, districts can control other Google tools, like Blogger, the Chrome Web Store, Google Books, Google Maps, Google News, Google Readers, Google Voice, and YouTube.

The Google Apps tools provide teachers the opportunity to engage their students in a 21st-Century learning environment.  Students can collaborate with their classmates, their teachers, or experts from around the world on Google Documents or Sites.  Teachers can conduct formative assessments with Google Forms, and share their classroom events with Google Calendar.  And, innovative uses for the Google Apps are being developed daily.

Rollout and Training

The rollout of Google Apps accounts is varied across the region.  In a recent survey of district technology coordinators, most of the respondents said that they have provided Google Apps for Education accounts to their district administrators, teachers, and support staff.  About 2/3 of the districts have provided a few, some, or all of their students with Google Apps for Education accounts, and 2/3 of the districts have provided their board members with accounts.

Training for users is also varied.  When asked how many districts had provided training to their users, some districts had provided training for all of their administrators, teachers and support staff.  But most of the districts had not provided all of their administrators, teachers, or support staff with training.  Very few districts had provided training to their students.

For more information about Google Apps for Education, or to schedule training, contact Seth Denney at, or call 800-382-8970 ext. 1109.

Seth Denney, Instructional Technology Specialist

(800) 382-8970 ext. 1109

Iowa’s AEAs ‘Impacting Lives’

Go to to read the latest edition of “Impacting Lives.” The blog newsletter is a statewide effort to communicate AEA success stories and services across the state. The newsletter is sent to all school administrators, legislators (in-session) and AEA staff in Iowa. The issue includes:

  • Discover the Savings through the Iowa Educators Consortium
  • Twin Rivers Makes SMART Use of Technology
  • Student Improvement Through Relationship Building
  • New Teacher Center: Developing Teacher Leaders and Instructional Coaches

Total Science Safety Workshop

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
8:00 – 11:00 a.m. – Burlington

1:00 – 4:00 p.m. – Ottumwa

Cost: $50.00/participant

Register online at:

Each participant will receive a copy of the 2011 Edition – Total Science Safety System CD-ROM or USB Drive

Dr. Jack Gerlovich, Distinguished Professor of Science Safety/Education at Drake University, and Great Prairie Area Education Agency have teamed up to provide a workshop that is a must for teachers concerned about safety in their classroom.

The workshop will introduce Science teachers to the comprehensive science safety resource “Total Science Safety System” developed by Dr. Jack Gerlovich and Dr. Dennis McElroy.