The Marlboro School Board released a long-awaited Special Education Report at last week’s meeting. The author, John McGuire, gave a brief overview of his findings. He pointed out that his firm, Futures, has compiled similar reports for more than 300 schools across the country including nearly 50 in New York State.
McGuire said his company typically visits each school in a district and has the Principals select a “diverse group” to interview. For Marlboro, this included two special education teachers, a gen-ed teacher, two para-professionals, the Response to Intervention [RTI] point person and the building administrators – both the Principal and Assistant Principal. “We look for a balance.” He said the interviews give, “a sense of the climate and culture of the district and its individual schools.”
Meghan Febbie, Director of Special Education, said 35 confidential interviews were conducted that included central leadership, school-based administration, certified teachers, non-certified instructional staff, related service providers and BOCES personnel. Febbie pointed out that on an annual basis they are required to report certain information, called indicators, to the state. She said indicator 8 is parental involvement, which consists of an anonymous survey that is given to all parents of students with disabilities. This allows a parent to highlight what their experiences are with the Special Education services that are offered by the district. These are then reviewed by an outside agency and the information is provided to the state.
Robin Hecht, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said the report analyzed two basic areas: the district’s Organizational Structure and the Coordination of the Programs and Services and the Continuum of Support Services for this segment of the school’s population. She noted that this included related services, such as para-professional support and the out-of-district students that are woven into these two areas.
Febbie said the “climate” of the Committee on Special Education [CSE] meetings are “celebratory.” She said when a student is making progress or when the district decreases a service or declassifies a student from Special Education, “everyone is happy and this is really what it truly should be. In Special Education we’re always working toward the least restrictive environment. We want our students included and to have as many experiences to be with typical similar peers, so this is really a true positive.”
Febbie noted that in the last 5 years the Marlboro Special Education population has only grown by 1%, “and this is truly due to the hard work that’s done through the Response To Intervention [RTI] process. Students can receive support at the building level through the different tiers to receive services.
“When a student does not make process they are referred when it is appropriate,” she said.
Febbie said Futures has correctly identified students with disabilities by taking the three highest incidents [of] low needs disabilities. She said these are the most common disabilities, “but don’t need the greatest amount of support.” These classifications are typically learning disabilities and speech and language impairment, which represent 72% of the total population of students with disabilities. These figures in Marlboro are lower than the county and state figures.
Febbie said Marlboro has 50 students who were placed out of district to meet their particular needs, which is 14% of the Special Education population and compares with other districts of similar size and expectations in the state.
Febbie said the report also highlighted areas that need improvement, which she said has already begun. On the organizational side, the district needs to “develop and implement a comprehensive Special Education district plan for the enhancement of students with disabilities.”
“This will give clear expectations of who we are and what we do for ours students. It will include regulations, internal policies and procedures as well as clear guidelines for our veteran and to new teachers coming to our district,” she said, adding that there will be annual training on these processes and procedures. Professional development opportunities will be provided to enhance strategies for all of the students and a reorganization of student services will be implemented, “to allow greater administrative capacity and collaboration with building level staff.”
Febbie said the district will continue to implement a comprehensive K-12 response to the RTI program and will keep reviewing the district’s continuum of Special Education Services.
“We want to make sure that all of our programs, kindergarten through 12th grade, include all students,” she said, adding that when students transition from one grade, school or program, “it should be seamless. This requires consistent and uniform programming that ensures all students with disabilities are consistently being met until they graduate.”
Board member Joanne Reed asked how long the district keeps a student in the RTI program, which is a general education initiative. She suggested that testing students should happen earlier in the year to avoid holding them in place for an entire school year without seeing any progress. Febbie said referrals from the RTI committee do come to her when a student is not making any progress and is not moving forward.
Elementary School Assistant Principal Dara Kaplan chairs the RTI committee at her school and works collaboratively with all of the district’s schools to determine how best to work with every student. If in an 8 week period the student shows no improvement, they invite the parents and the General Education teacher in for a consultation on the child. If another 6 weeks passes still without progress, a referral for additional help is made for up to nine times in a 6 day cycle.
The board noted that having students in a functioning RTI program helps them get back on track and prevents them from being incorrectly designated as a Special Education student.
McGuire said the district had the requisite number of staff for Special Education but in the needed organizational structure for administration of the program, the district is “very lean.” He said this negatively impacts visioning, program development and implementation, quality assurance, support, professional development of staff and supervision.
“Those are the things that go begging while short-staffed administrative time goes into meeting the [state] mandates,” he said.
McGuire typically looks for 1 administrator in Special Education for every 150 to 250 students while Marlboro is well above that, almost double the lower end of the range at about 350 students.
“That’s too lean to do the quality work that this district aspires to, in our opinion,” he said.
Superintendent Michael Brooks said the district can look at its organizational structure as an opportunity.
“So we peeled away a number of responsibilities from the Director of Student Services office that were not directly related to Special Education and re-titled it to Director of Special Education and distributed those non Special Education specific responsibilities to Robin Hecht and Rosanne Mele. Those responsibilities lighten the load of those areas and allows Meghan Febbie, as the Director of Special Education, to focus purely on that piece.” Brooks said although this does not exactly meet the ratio of administrator/student number recommended by McGuire, it helps with some of the ancillary responsibilities and the focus. Brooks said when he spoke with McGuire he stressed the importance of helping their Special Education students reach the highest level and richness of education that they can reach.
Board Vice President Susan Horton said, “as a board we very much appreciate this presentation and the detail that you’ve given us.” Board member Karen Brooks agreed, saying, “What you’ve accomplished is really great and it’s not just the administrative team, but it’s the efforts and the talent of our teachers that needs to be really applauded because the students and the report would not be this good, and it’s not just Special Education, it’s General Education, it’s the service providers; it’s everybody as a team. I want to applaud you all for such a wonderful job and a wonderful report.”