Talk of the District

with Tom Nelson, Superintendent

Talk of the District is a site to post your questions, concerns, ideas and participate in an on-line discussion with the Superintendent and other community members.

Superintendent Tom Nelson can be contacted via email at

Smooth transitions for our special education students

By Derek Berg, Stonebridge Elementary Principal; Stephen Gorde, Lake Elmo Elementary Principal; and John Fry, Student Support Services Program Administrator
March 25, 2015

Transitioning to a new school can be difficult for many students and their parents. There is a new schedule to adjust to, unfamiliar settings to navigate, and new routines to learn. It can be a challenge for any students, but especially for those with unique physical or emotional needs.

Now imagine being a student who is not only moving to a new school, but doing so without the familiar faces of their classmates or siblings to greet them. Not only must you adjust to a new place, you must do so without any friends to lean on. Unfortunately, this is currently the reality for a number of students enrolled in two of our four site-based special education programs.

Stillwater Area Public Schools has four site-based programs for special education. The medically complex program is located at Lake Elmo and the Emotional or Behavioral Disorders (EBD) program is located at Stonebridge. The problem is that the junior high equivalents of these programs do not align with the current feeder system. Students from Lake Elmo’s program transition to Stillwater Junior High while their classmates go to Oak-Land, and the Stonebridge students go to Oak-Land while their peers transition to Stillwater.

This is something a group of staff and community members are recommending we fix as part of the May 12 bond proposal for two important reasons:

It just makes sense.
Students should transition with the peers whom they’ve developed relationships with and come to know personally. This common sense approach supports the inclusive environment in Stillwater and deepens student connections with their peers and the broader community. Giving our students confidence and reducing anxiety during transitions requires the support of a range of stakeholders, these stakeholders include their peers.

Unique needs require unique environments.
The facilities our elementary site-based programs are currently located in do not meet the complex needs of the students they serve. The EBD classrooms at Stonebridge can be distracting for both the special needs students and their classmates. Many of the medical complex students at Lake Elmo have a myriad of devices to support their health and instruction. The current classroom limits the capacity of our students and their general education peers.

Accessibility and the opportunity for inclusion are also limited for our medically complex students at Lake Elmo. The two-story building limits access and options for students in wheelchairs or those who cannot navigate steps. Additionally, the playground is not accessible by wheelchair or to our students who might have other physical limitations.  

Re-aligning our special education programs will ensure accessibility for all students, broaden and deepen student relationships with their peers and provide an environment in which the respect and dignity of all students is assured.  It also provides a coherent, logical path for students throughout their careers with Stillwater Area Public Schools. Successful transitions school can set the stage not only for children’s success at school but also their response to future changes.