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EMPOWERING STUDENTS - MPS is Committed to Transition Success

EMPOWERING STUDENTS - MPS is Committed to Transition Success
Rusty Anderson

Special education services to meet students’ needs take diverse forms, from therapies and varied classroom strategies to real-word experiences.

by: South Metro Standard


Special education services to meet students’ needs take diverse forms, from therapies and varied classroom strategies to real-word experiences. While specific approaches vary throughout the country, local parents attest to the commitment of Moore Public Schools’ offerings for families of children with special needs. 

Lori Wathen is the parent of Reis, a senior with Down syndrome, who will be graduating from Southmoore this year.

“MPS has given Reis every opportunity and support to be an independent, contributing member of our community,” said Wathen. “He has received amazing services, including speech, occupational and physical therapy, but also extracurriculars and opportunities that make the difference.”

An increasing number of programs and professionals help meet families where they are as children grow. One in six children ages 3 to 17 experience developmental disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Investing in public education to meet special needs has made critical resources more available throughout the country. Moore Public Schools’ Director of Special Services Kim Heard, Ed. D, BCBA/L, has worked with the district for more than 17 years between her time in the classroom and in administration. 

“Public schools are mandated by IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Act] and the State Department of Education to provide free evaluation and services to students within the boundaries of the district,” said Heard. “Having a child with special needs who does not yet have interventions underway can present a series of challenges. Parents and caregivers may be unaware of the options available to them through the district as young as age 3.”

In fact, Heard recommends reaching out to Sooner Start from birth to age 3 so meetings can be held prior to that critical third birthday. 

“We work closely with that state agency so a plan is in place, and we can get started the day they turn 3,” said Heard of early intervention access. “The child can be evaluated to assess their level of need. If there are significant disabilities, we would start right away with Pre-K hours at age 3.”

Intervention is available for school-age children throughout their academic career.

“If parents or adults are concerned, they can reach out to their school’s principal or school psychologist. Testing may be the next step to see if they qualify,” said Heard. “There is a school psychologist assigned to every Moore school who will look at the child’s case history, from birth to now, consider any outside diagnosis the child has and go from there. It often begins with the parent reaching out and asking.”

Out of more than 24,000 students enrolled in Moore Public Schools, nearly 5,000 meet the criteria for special needs services. 

A range of intensity of services is available, from self-contained instruction for medically fragile children to participation within the school’s general population. All services are individualized depending on the needs of the student. 

“Many families move here to access our services. We have more than 50 self-contained functional classrooms and 500 special education professionals,” said Heard. “We really strive at MPS to serve the children where they are. We prefer to move the services to the child. The majority have services of their own at school, which allows them to stay alongside their peers to build community.” 

All 35 MPS school locations currently have an occupational and physical therapist and at least one speech language pathologist, in addition to special education teachers and paraprofessionals. MPS special education teachers earn 10% above general education pay, which is double the stipend amount paid by most other Oklahoma districts. 

“Moore is one of the districts in the state where we have an entire BCBA team, board certified behavior analysts to assist teachers and paraprofessionals to teach kids with autism or challenging behaviors,” said Heard. “Our staff is amazing, and we are proud of how they meet a variety of needs every day.” 

Heard recognizes the tremendous impact those school communities have on children, families and the people who surround them and Wathen agrees.

“Southmoore has been so supportive with Reis and with other students, encouraging us parents to get out of our comfort zones to do additional things,” she said. “He has done Tech Now, which has a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focus applied through car races where students do the graphics and everything, design and assemble their cars and go to a state competition. He’s done cheerleading every year. We’ve had music therapy and Moore FFA. Reis has participated in the summer and winter Special Olympics in Stillwater with his classmates giving him a huge sendoff.” 

When completing enrollment for students with special needs, Heard recommends parents go online and enroll through the MPS website just as they would for any student and then phone administration to discuss additional needs. Getting acquainted with staff is an ideal first step. 

“There is a misperception that private schools have better services,” Heard explained. “But, in general, public schools receive more funding and we have laws that mandate us to provide services.” 

A new transition program will allow Reis to return for the 2024-2025 school year as part of the Oklahoma Alternate Assessment Program, which offers an alternate diploma. 

“What that does is afford students like my son the ability to continue attending school for one more year,” said Wathen. “I feel these transition services are so important because they will allow students to build upon their skills as they navigate changes and opportunities.” 

The recent passage of a bond issue for college and career readiness allowed the installation of a coffee bar where students can work, including those with special needs. Southmoore’s cafe was completed at the end of 2023. 

“Now, because of the alternate diploma program, students like Reis can work there,” said Wathen. “That transitional year will also include time in a functional skills classroom. There is also the opportunity to work in the cafeteria, at office jobs and maybe in horticulture on the grounds of the school. They were able to hire a transition teacher and two job coaches. This is tremendous for our students.” 

Her hope for Reis is additional employment opportunities along with post-secondary opportunities especially for students with special needs. 

“Reis likes to give hugs across the counter,” she said. “We need people like that in our communities, too.” 

MPS is currently hiring certified special education teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech/language pathologists and paraprofessionals. To learn more about employment opportunities, visit