Bridge Builder: New NSD director of student support services shares ideas for the district

Kim Howe, Director of Student Support Services discusses the" life book page" she created of her daughter in 2005 which is displayed in her office at the Newhall School District office in Santa Clarita on Friday. Dan Watson/The Signal

The newly appointed director of student support services for the Newhall School District, Kimberly Howe, wants to be thought of as a “bridge builder.”

She wants to sit at a table during an individualized education program, or IEP, meeting with both parents and Newhall School District staff, and make it clear that she knows what both side is going through, she said.

Going into her 27th year as an educator, a lot of which was spent working with special education teachers, students and parents, she knows what it’s like to be on the professionals’ side of the table.

Kim Howe, Director of Student Support Services at her desk in the Newhall School District office in Santa Clarita on Friday. Dan Watson/The Signal

But taped to behind her door is a large, but fading poster, with writing on it that she made while she was a teacher back in 2005. The poster shows her daughter Aspen, who was born deaf, and the pictures on the wall give a glimpse into her daughter’s journey. Howe said that even after her daughter had gotten cochlear implants that gave her at least some hearing when she was a child, she said while her daughter was growing up in Clark County, there were not many resources or much knowledge out there for parents like her.

“I have that unique experience of being both a professional and a parent,” said Howe. “I see this as an opportunity to help children be successful, and help all of the people involved understand the potential all these kids have regardless of what they’re born with.”

And now, after serving as a teacher/administrator in Clark County in Nevada for 23 years, and three years as principal at Meadows Elementary, Howe is now in charge of the NSD student support services department, having taken the reins from her successor, Larry Brunson, earlier this summer.

The position entails overseeing both student services within the district — meaning all things concerned with attendance, behavior, transfers and open enrollment — as well as special education. Within NSD, there are a total of 173 SSSD staff members (which includes certificated and classified staff), 997 district wide with IEPs and 270 open enrollment students (students that are either Inter-District or Intra-District transfers).

“What I’m faced with is the successes and structures that I set up at Meadows, how will that look differently, how can I customize that to all 10 schools in the district.”

In her multi-year strategic plan, Howe laid goals that she has for the district: transforming student learning through differentiated instruction, creating a culture for student well-being through positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) and providing equity of access for learning opportunities for all students.

PBIS is a program or philosophy that children, you can shape behavior by positively reinforcing behaviors that you want to see,” said Howe. “You kind of need to teach the children what is expected, to expect the behavior.”

At every school in the district there will be an emphasis on “how to act, where to act and when to act.” Teachers and administrators will then celebrate the positive behavior students exhibit, according to Howe. “The effect is the number of student disciplines decrease, because you’re focusing on the positives,” she said.

Kim Howe, Director of Student Support Services at the Newhall School District office in Santa Clarita on Friday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“I want students at all levels working at their capacity, and working in the least restrictive environment that they can handle,” said Howe, adding that the least restrictive environment entails inclusive practices, or allowing special education students, based on what that particular student is able to handle, learning in a general education classroom. “That is very important …  we understand the importance of gen ed and the rigor of that, but we also understand and completely honor that some students require a smaller setting, and so you give them that smaller setting.”

The fourth and final goal Howe laid out in her multi-year strategic plan, which she said was a major point of emphasis for her, was fostering the partnerships with parents/guardians. She’s going to also be the “bridge builder” by increasing communication through a special education advisory collaborative (SEAC) as well as holding student support services meetings on a quarterly basis that will include roundtable discussions for parents, parent trainings and “Did you Know” workshops. 

“In 10 years, I see the students with disabilities in NSD experiencing academic success in the Least Restrictive Environment and experiencing success in all social settings, SSSD staff members feeling supported and being well-trained in all professional areas that results in student’s with a disability needs being met on a daily basis, and parents/guardians feeling at peace every day when they drop off their child at school knowing that their child’s individual needs are being met as a result of the positive partnership they have established with the school staff,” Howe said.

All in all though, Howe said a common theme in her four goals, and what she’s going to be looking at every opportunity, is how she can she change paradigms and build trust, between her and the teachers, her and the parents, and parents and the teachers.

“We really need to build trust,” said Howe. “But we have to earn that trust and you earn that trust by doing what’s best for children, listening to parents and celebrating together as the student is successful.”

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