Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Catholic Schools Gauge Serving More With Special Needs

By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 19, 2012

The superintendent of Catholic schools, Dr. Diane Starkovich, has announced the launch of a new survey focused on gauging interest in and need for programs for students with special needs in the archdiocese.

Coming on the heels of an announcement of the pursuit of district-wide accreditation, Starkovich and the Office of Catholic Schools are continuing to seek ways to improve the Catholic school system in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The survey continues an assessment that began internally.

“First we had to look at what needs we are addressing now in our schools,” said Starkovich, who added that the Archdiocesan School Advisory Council assisted with the design of the project and the design of the survey. “The question came up: Could we be doing more?” she said.

After gathering information from the schools on the performance and ability of students, the Office of Catholic Schools learned that nearly 11 percent of students in archdiocesan schools are identified with mild to moderate learning disabilities. Then a team of people, including teachers, the school psychologist, and other educators, prepared a survey to gauge the needs of these students in North Georgia, Starkovich said.

“If we go back to our strategic plan from a couple of years ago, there is a mention in it of working with students with special needs,” she said. “It’s always been a dream of both the archbishop and me to try and serve more students with special needs.”

Starkovich said this survey is aimed at gathering information from parishioners about what students the Catholic school system is not serving, in hopes of finding ways to reach out to them. By learning about which disabilities are not being addressed, the Office of Catholic Schools can then begin to determine if these needs can be met in Catholic schools of the archdiocese.

“We have wonderful schools. We have tremendous resources available in each of them, but we don’t have the capacity to address more than mild to moderate disabilities,” Starkovich said.

For example, there are no occupational therapists or physical therapists on staff, and only some teachers are trained in special education.

The Office of Catholic Schools wants to explore providing additional services and program offerings with highly specialized staff, Starkovich said.

The survey has been written and translated into Spanish. It is to be released this year to begin gathering data as the next step in addressing the needs of students Catholic schools currently do not serve. Starkovich believes that a couple of elementary schools in the archdiocese are interested in participating in a pilot program with 10 to 15 students with moderate to more severe disabilities.

The special needs effort will eventually look at facilities, expanded curricula, and the possibility of creating a program that would allow Catholic students to be in a Catholic school with a modified program to meet their needs.

“If we are going to take a student with special needs, our belief is we need to be able to meet those needs. We are able to do that a lot of the time, but there are times we have to refer a family outside of our school because we just cannot meet the need,” said Starkovich.

“We do well with what we have, but we want to know if we can do more,” she added. “We believe we can, but we need some more information.”

According to the Office of Catholic Schools, the purpose of the survey is threefold. First it is meant to provide a bigger picture of what additional student needs exist. Secondly, it will provide some valuable information and data so the Office of Catholic Schools may take appropriate action. Finally, it will gather the responses of parents to the possibility of paying extra fees for extra services.

The survey is not meant to be seen as a guarantee of any new programs and services that will be implemented but rather as a way to see if the Office of Catholic Schools and the local Catholic educational institutions can provide something extra for these students.

“Right now we are just exploring and there is no guarantee of a program,” said Starkovich. “But we are listening.”

The survey will be distributed in archdiocesan schools and will also eventually be available online via the Office of Catholic Schools’ website and in the bulletins of many parishes throughout the archdiocese. The link to the survey will be open through the first week in April.