COLCHESTER — The Board of Education approved the hiring of a Supervisor of Special Education Wednesday, a move that interim director Glenn McGrath said would create the opportunity to restore community confidence and make changes in the structure of the special education department.
The new supervisory role is a 10-month position with the responsibility of facilitating direct contact between building administrators and teachers in the building, according to Interim Superintendent Thomas McDowell.
The supervisor will work with other members of the Special Education and Pupil Services Department, including the new Director of Pupil Services and Special Education Amy Emory, who was hired in July.
McGrath told the Board of Education in a meeting on Wednesday that while Colchester had been well-regarded for its special education program years ago, the situation had changed “significantly.”
“Over these past few years, we moved from a very proactive type of culture to one that I see as now somewhat of a reactive culture. We need to [go] back to be much more proactive,” he said.
McGrath said the district needed to move forward to make the changes outlined in an independent review of the special education department that was contracted by the board in December.
McGrath pointed out three major problems that the report identified. The first, he said, was that over the last three years the individual school principals had been given the task of overseeing the special education staff and directing the creation of students’ Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs.
“The natural consequences that came from that is that they were leading that program without having the necessary professional development and training to support that,” he said.
Second, McGrath said, Emory’s position would provide oversight and accountability to make sure that students were actually learning and achieving the goals outlined in their education plans.
“Our students are falling way below our expectations in terms of their performance and progress, both on the IEP and on their achievement across the board in state assessments,” McGrath said.
State assessment data provided by the district shows that about one in four special education students in grades 3 through 8 met the state standards for English and Math this year. SAT scores show that 26 percent of 11th graders in special education met the standard for reading and writing and 16 percent met the standard for math.
Third, McGrath said that the department needed to be restructured to create better collaboration between special education teachers and regular education teachers at the different schools. He said this would create a much more “inclusive” environment for students with disabilities.
Board of Education member Mary Tomasi said she recognized that special education students in particular had not gotten the services they needed during the COVID pandemic.
“I know we’ve had a long haul with special ed the last few years, and certainly need to show more improvement in that area,” said Mary Tomasi.
Emory said that she saw the position as providing training for the special education staff and support for administrators.
“That allows the administrators to really be able to work more directly with their teachers in terms of promoting more inclusive practices, improving instructional practices as it relates to special education students, which is critically important,” she said.
McDowell said that the funding for the position’s stipend of approximately $120,000 will come out of grants, and that it may be possible for grants to fund part of the position next year as well.
With the Board’s approval, the district can begin a search to hire for the position.
Statewide, 15 percent of special education students in grades 3-8 met the state standards for English, while 11 percent met the state standards for math. Of the 11th grade special education students who took the SAT statewide, 18 percent met state standards for English and 7 percent met the standards for math.
This story has been corrected to clarify the title and job description of the hire