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Norwalk BoE goes back to CREC, responding to state’s SPED advice

Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons.

Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons.

Updated 4:27 p.m., 2012 CREC report added.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk plans to work on its Special Education problem with the return of CREC (that should sound familiar) and a reorganization that will elevate the Special Education director position to a level just below the superintendent.

The Norwalk Board of Education is set to vote Tuesday on spending $28,800 to have CREC – Capital Region Education Council – audit the Special Education department and deliver a written report in October. This may be surprising, as Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said at the last BoE meeting that he was going to ask the state to do an audit of Norwalk’s Special Education department.

CREC is doing the audit, while State Education Resource Center (SERC) is doing a national search for a SPED director to replace Christina Fensore, who left recently after just a year, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said. The SERC contract will be voted on in September, he said.

“We are going to upgrade the SPED position to a deputy superintendent level, directly reporting to the superintendent (who will have three direct reports – this one, and the two chiefs),” Lyons said.

The Board is voting on a new chief academic officer and an interim chief operating officer Tuesday.

The new SPED director will have a higher salary and more authority, Lyons said. “SPED teachers will be in ‘matrix management’, jointly managed and evaluated by the new deputy super along with the principals” in the same way that Curriculum and Instructional Site Directors will be managed and evaluated by the chief academic officer and the principals,” Lyons said.

“SERC told Dr. Adamowski that this is necessary if we are to attract the talent – with high level managerial experience – that will be needed to straighten SPED out,” Lyons said. “The salary cost is minuscule compared to the regular cost over-runs in this department.  We have everything else in our budget under control; SPED needs to be brought under control, too (primarily by in-housing students with better services rather than outplacing them.”

CREC has audited the department twice before, issuing a withering report, and will be doing an update as the BoE uses its $1.1 million left over at the end of the school year to cover unexpected special education costs.

2012 CREC Report

28 comments

Norwalk SPEDPartners August 15, 2015 at 7:37 am

Norwalk SPEDPartners supports the use of CREC to conduct this study. Actually, they have participated in a study of the Norwalk Special Ed Dept not just once before, but twice.

There originally was a report from the Cambridge Group that examined the entire District. It found that the Special Ed dept needed a complete review by itself.

http://redapplesnorwalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Cambridge-Report.pdf

This led the CREC I report. This report was completed in November 2008. However, it was not immediately released to the public. I was only after a number of parents demanded its release that it was finally presented to the public. This report was very critical of the Special Ed dept in Norwalk.

http://redapplesnorwalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/crecreport1.pdf

Some 4 years later CREC was asked to circle back to see what if any progress was made in accomplishing the goals set out in the 2008 report (not released until 2009). The results were not good.

This report was completed in July of 2012. Once more, the results were not released to the parents until much later. It was stated that ‘new data’ needed to be included.

http://portal.norwalkps.org/npsdepartments/speced/Documents/CREC%20SPECIAL%20ED%20REVIEW%20%20%20JULY%202012.pdf

There was a Powerpoint presentation delivered by Peg MacDonald of CREC to the Board in February 2013.It was made very clear that the Special Ed Department and programs (despite the expenditures) were ‘lean and underfunded’. There also needed to be some pretty significant changes in the way in which the department was run.

http://redapplesnorwalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/CREC-2012-POWER-POINT_PRESENTED-TO-BOE-FEB-5-2013.pdf

These failures were reported on in the Press.

http://www.thehour.com/news/norwalk/schools/board_of_education/report-norwalk-schools-fail-to-improve-special-education-over-years/article_85460d7a-5978-5226-ac1d-2ed4a0f542b1.html

So, we are now in 2015 and we are on the cusp of yet another CREC study of our Special Ed Department (CREC III for those keeping score). As noted, the Norwalk SPEDParents group is all for another study with the following caveats — it needs to be done immediately and needs to be completed swiftly. The results need to be taken seriously and the recommendations need to be implemented (this time). The findings also need to be released when they are completed (not kept from the public and parents for months).

In addition, the Board should charge the CREC group with reviewing the 504 program at the same time it reviews the Special Ed programs. These 504 programs target kids that need special accommodations in order to participate in the regular curriculum. They often need many of the same supports that the special ed kids need. It is not efficient and, in our opinion, nonsensical to have a firewall built between these programs.

So, get the study done, get it done quickly, and move to implement the recommendations.

Finally, the Norwalk SPEDPartners group supports the elevation of the Special Ed director’s position to that of ‘cabinet level’.

NPS Retired Teacher August 15, 2015 at 8:08 am

What an interesting article. It sounds as if Mike Lyons has taken the reins and is now making all the decisions. Isn’t Adamowski the superintendent?

Proud Parent August 15, 2015 at 9:07 am

I think these blanket comments about people who are part of trying to make a positive change to NPS are counter productive. If you are a “retired norwalk teacher” than I would assume you would know that part of the BoE job is to communicate and interpret to the public decisions the that are being made by the Super and other district leaders ALONG with the BoE. In fact, in the article Mike Lyons is clearly relaying information given to Dr. Adamowski which clearly Adomowski gave to him. Here’s a link to the duties of BoE members so you can be informed: http://www.norwalkps.org/kr/One.aspx?objectId=4641863&contextId=264228&lastCat=3267407

Oldtimer August 15, 2015 at 9:29 am

We can expect that Adamowski and Lyons would be working very closely to fix what has been a long standing problem.

just asking August 15, 2015 at 10:17 am

” State Education Resource Center (SERC) is doing a national search for a SPED director director to replace Christina Fensore.”

Now that’s interesting as SERC mission statement mentions nothing about headhunting.

” SERC provides resources, professional development, and a centralized library to educators, families, and community members in collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Education and other partners.”

Can someone elaborate in further detail how this hiring process works?

Mike Lyons August 15, 2015 at 3:11 pm

BTW, these positions were called for in the budget the Board adopted unanimously back in January, thus pre-dating any thought of Dr. Adamowski being hired by months. They are part of the strategic reorganization of the central office to improve management.

Mike Lyons August 15, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Just Asking, we will have a contract with SERC on our next Board agenda retaining them to do the search; whether they list it on their web site or not, they do provide the service. The hiring process will follow our usual HR procedures. The search firm will find and screen initial candidates, who will then be interviewed by a team of NPS administrators, then by the Superintendent, who will make his recommendation for a vote by the Board.

MarjorieM August 15, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Mike, will a different person from CERC be doing the audit? It might be good to get more than one opinion about how the department should operate. Second opinions and all……

MarjorieM August 15, 2015 at 8:05 pm

Mike, I can not find the budget for a deputy superintendent of special education. Please direct me to it. Thank you.

MarjorieM August 16, 2015 at 9:45 am

Well Mike, looks like there is a reason you wouldn’t answer me. The job posting for Special Education was for a DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL EDUCATION, not a deputy superintendent.. So “these positions were in the budget in January before Adamowski” is NOT true. The budget called for a director of special education.

Norwalkparent August 16, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Will part of this audit also include the law firm used by the BOE for due process disputes? Specifically looking at the methods they employ and what the district pays to fight parents trying to get the services their children require?

What part will parental input play in this study?

Kevin Di Mauro August 16, 2015 at 6:55 pm

@MarjorieM

You seem to have a personal fixation problem of some type with regard to Mike Lyons.

You often seem to be talking to yourself and just looking for some muck to rake. This is type of attitude does not help Norwalk Public Schools.

If you think you can do better than Mike Lyons then come out from behind your fake name and run for a position on the BOE.

Sue Haynie August 16, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Having the SPED Director be a Deputy Superintendent, cabinet-level position is a very big step in the right direction. Great decision by Dr. Adamowski.

A direct quote from Dr. Peg McDonald of CREC at the February 2012 BOE presentation was “No SPED administrators want to be in system where they are told they are accountable for budget, accountable for compliance and yet don’t have any decision making authority, who would want that job?” Dr. McDonald also said at that meeting, again a direct quote, “Right now the SPED office does not have the authority to tell a building principal that the way they are doing SPED has to change,”

Audio version of the CREC Presentation on February 5, 2013, click this link:
https://soundcloud.com/lsh…/boe-meeting-2-5-13-crec-repor

MarjorieM August 16, 2015 at 8:32 pm

The question you need to be asking is why Adamowski allows Lyons to be on the blog. I thought Adamowski was a take-charge superintendent. He sure isn’t preventing the Board chair from commenting on NON. Some of the chair’s statements appear to be colossal blunders. Why would Adamowski consent to allowing him to cast aspersions on administrators? Why would Adamowski allow misinformation to appear in print? Is Adamowski the superintendent or is the chair the superintendent? Who is really in charge? All I am here for is to expose the truth. If that bothers people, so be it. I would like honesty and transparency. Anyone really want dishonesty and a lack of transparency?

Kevin Di Mauro August 16, 2015 at 9:13 pm

@MarorieM

As I’ve previously suggested, why don’t you come out from behind your fake name and suggest how we could be doing things better rather than just throwing mud after the fact?

In my opinion MarjorieM, you are less than useless. You are the enemy of education for Norwalk’s children.

Mark Chapman August 16, 2015 at 11:51 pm

@MarjorieM

Either your comment is a horribly failed attempt at sarcasm or a revealing look at just how much you know about how things work. For those who might accept your post as factual and serious questioning, we would remind readers that the superintendent works for the Board of Education. The superintendent does not make policy; the superintendent is the head administrator and carries out the policy set by the BoE. No one can tell BoE members — not Mike Lyons, not Sherelle Harris, not Shirley Mosby — they cannot comment on blogs or on news websites. We have revised our policy to insist that sitting members of government boards and commissions appointed or elected, not including, at this time, task force members — who have no decision-making power — to post under their real names.

As to a legitimate question, Dr. Adamowski likely is too busy to read the comments — signed or under phony names — on every Norwalk news site or blog. And as to your “I am here to expose the truth” line — you and the ShamWow guy. Don’t pay attention to the people you hire or elect who tell you in their own names what is happening, and don’t believe the news media, not even the ones that report and don’t just do stenography. No — believe the person or people who hide their identities so they cannot be held accountable and their credibilty cannot be judged.

About credibility: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. Readers should NEVER trust statements portrayed as “facts” coming from anyone who stands to benefit one way or another from spreading fertilizer, and especially from people hiding behind bushes. They just might be someone with a very large ax to grind.

Kathleen Montgomery August 17, 2015 at 10:45 am

Marjorie, your interpretation of fact (especially when it comes from Mike Lyons remains disturbing in large part because your “questions” always include aspersions of wrong-doing…by Mike. You take a fact and spread it with manure and toss it back at Mike. It is a relief that Mike has taken the stance of not replying to your taunts and baiting.

I don’t know your motives (certainly not for transparency for sure), and don’t really care. It’s beyond tiresome. The superintendent and the BOE have serious work to do moving forward. Your constant Mike-baiting needs to stop.

Mike Lyons August 17, 2015 at 11:19 am

Norwalkparent, the previous CREC studies did have parental input into the issues with SPED in Norwalk. This study is more focused on addressing immediate issues and creating a road map for the new SPED director (now elevated, appropriately, to a deputy superintendent level, to give this department the importance it deserves) for making changes when he/she arrives. My sense is that if we get a real handle on the 504 process and PPTs, and focus on improving in-house services, many of the legal challenges will become moot.

Joanna Cooper August 17, 2015 at 1:21 pm

I am happy to hear of the plans for NPS SPED I read here! Especially, the director position being elevated to deputy superintendent level. This is the change that has been apparently lacking —a real change in the organizational structure that allows the SPED director not just oversight but the ability to hold people accountable. The last CRÈC report showed that the organizational structure of NPS rendered the SPED director(s) powerless in this area. It seems likely it may be the reason why the last two left. Sue Haynie, quotes Peg MacDonald who reported with the CRÈC report findings, “right now the SPED office does not have the authority to tell a building principal that the way they are doing SPED has to change.” Now they will. It seems this is THE dramatic change needed and the way to move forward with more success. Thank you Dr. Adamowski and the BoE for this change!

The rest of the CRÈC reports outlined very clearly what was needed in many areas to improve SPED in NPS. The new report to be done will likely do the same with an updated version. With this critical organizational change the next SPED director will be able to address this authority issue and hit the ground running with the help of the state employees. I’m hoping the third CRÈC report is the charm and with this critical change I think it will be. The new SPED director to come will have the “authority” they need to make the changes needed. That sounds like good news for Special Education students and staff.

MarjorieM August 17, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Will a change in title actually produce a change at the school level? The Deputy for Special Education can not possibly attend every PPT in the district. The PPT process must follow IDEA regulations, which means decisions are made at these meetings. A principal can’t tell a parent that they have to check with the deputy for approval. That would violate the regulations. If a school is excessively denying services, a director has the right to report that principal as well. The superintendent would then call in the principal. Am I missing something?
This is a question that I can not answer, so I am asking it here.

Sue Haynie August 17, 2015 at 3:38 pm

A part of a NON story that got less attention than it deserved speaks directly to the implementation of SRBI (aka Response to Intervention)
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2015/08/dalio-blamed-loss-of-superintendent-lack-of-norwalk-schools-vision-in-pulling-1-1m-grants-second-half/

SRBI, at its heart, is about assessment, progress monitoring and appropriate interventions. SRBI has its roots in dyslexia intervention.

SRBI is also the gateway to Special Ed when things don’t go right.

If SRBI is done inconsistently across the district, as it has been for years, many more children than need be are failed and SPED enrollment and costs increase.

About 916 K-3 kids who at the beginning of the 2014/15 school year (BOY) started out in ‘red’ on mCLASS, remained in ‘red’ at the middle of the year (MOY). That’s approximately 55% of this group of Title 1 students. The report also notes, little to no progress monitoring was done until November, this had been past practice in NPS for schools using mCLASS.

See Page 3 of the NON link labeled ‘NPS Dalio report exec summary’. I turned the percentages listed into numbers of students based on actual enrollment numbers in the 2015/16 Budget Book. Please feel free to check my accuracy.

Red=well below benchmark on mCLASS reading assessments
Yellow=below benchmark
Green=at or above benchmark
BOY= Beginning of Year
MOY=Middle of Year
EOY=End of Year

NPS Parent August 17, 2015 at 4:08 pm

In response to one of the questions above about whether a change in title will lead to better supervision, my experience as a sped parent is that it will or at least has the potential to. I don’t think it’s the title per se, but the fact that building administrators and principals will be accountable, which has long been lacking, in my opinion. In my child’s case, the principal did many things that were in direct violation of IDEA and it ultimately led to to a far more costly outcome than need be. And there was nothing the sped department could do about it because they had no authority. It led to legal bills for the district, training to some of the school personnel that was handed down from the CT Department of Education, a much more costly program for my child that likely would have been needed had the school not spent so much time denying services, and ultimately outplacement. And most importantly, significant harm to a child. I applaud the decision to grant the sped director this authority and am happy to see that Norwalk finally seems to be tackling this issue and taking it seriously.

NPS Parent August 17, 2015 at 4:47 pm

One other point to poster above about director not being able to attend every PPT meeting. They don’t need to; they just need authority to change wrong doings and hold people at school level accountable. In my case, the sped director was involved in the due process proceedings and settlement proceedings and was clearly able to see many of the violations done by the building principal, but she had no ability whatsoever to make the administrator be held accountable for needlessly spending money by violating IDEA over and over again. Moreover, we talk about these issues as if the kids are just a number, but violations of IDEA and not following best practices can ruin a child’s life and do far more harm to society in the long run.

Iris August 18, 2015 at 9:15 pm

@NPS parent – how wise you are! I agree with you on many levels. Perhaps, and hopefully, the change of title from SPED Director to Deputy Superintendent (and its accompanying responsibilities) will eliminate the practice of building-based administrators pre-determining a PPT outcome and/or over-riding a Central Office SPED decision. (particularly relevant when discussing out-placements)

NPS Parent August 19, 2015 at 4:28 pm

@Iris-it sounds so incredible to think that PPT outcomes would be pre-determined by building administrator, especially when private evaluations and experts in the particular field were brought to the table, but it happened to me on numerous occasions and all on tape! It’s so sad to know that in Norwalk, some administrators seem to only provide necessary services after the child has been set up to fail, and then does indeed have life-altering failures, which force the district to provide the services in a much more extensive–and costly–way than would have been the case. It’s even sadder to feel that some of the administrators that do this are in charge of our children.

Iris August 21, 2015 at 6:33 pm

@NPS parent – it IS sad and incredible. Often, referral for an evaluation is sabotaged at the building level but no supports are put into place for the student in question. Building administrators like to boast about low referral rates. And, as you wisely wrote, it
backfires and the student suffers.

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