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Somerset special ed becomes national autism leader

The Somerset School District has been chosen as one of 12 districts in the nation to lead a national program on autism.

The program is the National Professional Development in Autism Spectrum Disorders Project.

In the program, 12 school districts around the nation will work with The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Three states, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Indiana, were chosen for the first year of the this program. Four school districts in each state were selected to be model programs, and Somerset was one of the four districts in Wisconsin chosen for the program.

The four state schools will work closely with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Department of Health and Family Services, and the state Birth to Three Program. Staffs from these four schools will participate in a training institute in June that will showcase the use of best practices for special education providers and students' families. Experts from the National Center for Training and Development on Autism, The Autism Society, UW-Madison and the DPI will be leading this summer institute on evidence-based practices and autism services.

The effort to have Somerset considered for this program was led by Director of Pupil Services Darren Kern. He went through an extensive interview with the DPI, detailing Somerset's program for autistic children, his background and his philosophy in teaching autistic children.

Kern said the strong special education staff in the District was a key reason why Somerset was chosen. The program will be conducted in the Elementary School, which has a higher population of autistic children. Kern said school psychologist Mary Johnson, Elementary special education teacher Sonya Stewart, Early Childhood special education teacher Eva Armstrong, occupational therapist Lisa Haverly and speech-language specialist Michelle Paulisch will all be involved in the program. A parent will also be selected to be part of the team involved in the advancement of autism practices in the District.

What is learned at the Elementary level will then be brought to the staff at the Middle School and High School.

By being part of this program, the Somerset District has a four-year commitment to work on the leading edge of autism education. In the first year, the Somerset staff will be involved in learning and implementing the latest in autism education. In the following three years, the District will act as a model for other schools that want to advance their autism education.

"I think that Somerset will be looked at nationally as one of the best in meeting the needs of children with autism," Kern said. "This recognizes that we do good things already and meet the needs of kids with autism."

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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