New tools help D-29 special services department

New technology, training and services have led to a successful year for the special services department at Williston District 29.
Jeriah Owens, the district's special services director, updated the board of their year so far during the regular Jan. 15 meeting.
She said they have purchased new technology to help their special education classes, such as 40 iPads, updated psychological evaluations kits, and an online tool to monitor the progress of students. All students and their families also have access to a full-time mental health counselor, instead of having to go to Barnwell for services.
"We have tools in place to help them," said Owens.
In addition to new tools for students, special services staff will receive crisis prevention training in June - something bus drivers received last summer. Owens said this will teach valuable skills, such as knowing the warning signs of anxiety. They plan to have at least a four-person team in each school who will know how to properly handle such situations.
As the special services department makes improvements, Superintendent Dr. Tom Siler announced some new measures of his own district-wide in light of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last month.
Siler said they are reviewing all their security measures and will soon issue photo identification cards to all employees so it is clear in an emergency who belongs there. He said they have already identified funds in the budget to purchase the machine to make the cards.
He also recommended the allocation of $35,300 to purchase radios to tie staff, buses and police together in the event of an emergency.
"It's money well spent for the well-being of our children," said board chairman Calvin Melton after the board gave their approval.
Board member Chris Rivers brought up another issue by asking about replacing the rest of the classroom doors with more secure ones. The district has been in the process of renovating rooms the past couple years, but still has a few left.
Siler said they will evaluate what needs to be done, plus the cost of doing so. No action was taken.
In other news:
 The board approved to move this year's graduation time on June 7 up an hour - from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m. - in order to better accommodate families who have gatherings after the ceremony. In the event of severe weather, which moved the ceremony indoors last year, Siler said they will have a closed circuit television set up for those who do not get tickets into the gymnasium.
 The board began prepping for next year by approving the 2013-14 calendar.
It is pretty much normal, but includes four days where students will leave early and teachers will remain for a half day of professional development. "Everybody in Barnwell County saw that as a plan," said Siler of the calendar which applies to all three districts.
Besides the calendar, Siler said the district will soon begin preparations for next year's budget. Letters of intent are also due soon from employees on whether they plan to return next year.
 The district announced the retirement of WEMS Principal Dr. Eavon Hickson effective June 30.
"Eavon Hickson has been a valuable member of the Williston School Community for the past 12 years," said Superintendent Dr. Tom Siler. "She is not only committed to the students and staff but providing opportunities for students to be successful in a career and in life."
The People-Sentinel will have more on her retirement in an upcoming edition.
 Being School Board Appreciation Month, the board was recognized for their service.
"In Williston School District 29, school board members spend time carrying out policies of the district and make tough decisions on complex educational and social issues impacting the entire community," said Siler.
Members were also given a variety of handmade gifts from students.