Heidi Keyes, Bruce Kimmel, Sarah LeMieux, and Barbara Meyer-Mitchell are Democratic Board of Education candidates.
One of the most crucial areas in which Norwalk Public Schools must improve is Special Education.
Reports from the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) in 2008, 2012, and 2015 highlighted the issues troubling our Special Education department. “Frequent staff turnover, poor recruitment, hiring and supervisory practices, ineffective central authority, and inadequate monitoring and supervision of processes” had contributed to major difficulties.
These issues led to a lack of integrity in compliance to Individualized Educational Programs (IEPS), an overall absence of accountability, and a heavy reliance on out of district placements and contracted services. This failure is and was unacceptable.
The good news is that the Board of Education has a plan, and has secured two years of funding towards a three-year plan to turn the department around. To be implemented between 2016 and 2019, the plan puts in place concrete steps to address the concerns outlined in the CREC reports. These funds have already been used to open the Norwalk Early Childhood Center, a redesign of the Wolfpit Program for Children with Autism, a program for students with emotional disturbances at Norwalk High School, development of the Norwalk Dyslexia Clinic at Norwalk Pathways Academy to be opened in 2018, and to add staff at central office to ensure proper IEP compliance.
Federal law mandates an IEP be developed and implemented for all students with special needs. The key word here is individualized. Norwalk Public Schools must work with parents, who know their children best, to properly identify issues early and address them with quality programs. Sustained constructive communication with families is critical, as the district works to rebuild trust in this area.
Yvette Goorevitch, the newly appointed Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services, recently outlined the department’s strategic plans for 2017-2018 at the first district-wide Special Education parents meeting of the Department of Specialized Learning and Student Services. She emphasized the need for NPS to move from compliance, where we still have issues to address, towards quality. She laid out organizational changes that will augment accountability within the department.
Goorevitch stressed the need to develop capacity for co-teaching, where a Special Education teacher and a regular education teacher work together in the classroom, reducing missed instructional time by minimizing regular classroom pull-outs. This also ensures the students are with their peers for more of the school day.
A key component of the plan will be robust progress monitoring, using better central data collection through an application called Rethink. Professional training for staff will ensure data is consistent across the district and over time.
By Connecticut state law, Gifted or Academically Talented identification and appropriate programming is required and falls under the purview of Special Education. We support the Board of Education’s contract to work with Joseph Renzulli, a pioneer in gifted education. One enormous benefit of Renzulli’s Schoolwide Enrichment Model is that it reaches an entire school by applying gifted education methods to develop talent in every student, as well as in-depth enrichment for identified students.
We believe this collaboration could make Norwalk one of the strongest districts in the state for gifted education, increasing our appeal to families looking to move to Fairfield County. Top priorities include revamping the identification process, redesigning the curriculum, and redesigning the delivery of services model. The children in this program could be the inventors and tech geniuses of tomorrow. We must invest in them now, so we can reap the benefits of their education later.
If elected to the BOE this November, we promise to support the Norwalk Public Schools Special Education turnaround by working with Dr. Adamowski, Yvette Goorevitch, the staff, and families to make sure we are creating and providing the best quality programs here in Norwalk, which will not only be better for students, but will also save the district money in the long run by avoiding costly and inconvenient outplacements. We also promise to work with the Common Council and the Mayor to ensure that the third year of the special education turnaround is fully funded.
We promise to support policies that identify children with special needs early, before they start to develop poor self-esteem or a sense of failure. We will support and promote management strategies that take into account caseload management, such that all IEPs are honored without overwhelming staff with unreasonable expectations. We promise to work hard to make sure our investment in the Artistically Talented program yields the best possible results.