Tuesday, August 31, 2010
By James Lomuscio
The strengths and weaknesses of Westport Public Schools’ special education programs took center stage tonight as the Board of Education heard recommendations for services improvements from a task force of parents and educators.
At times the report seemed awash in educational jargon and an alphabet soup of acronyms foreign to most, but its focus—to better serve special education students and their parents—remained clear.
The eight-member Special Education Task Force, responding to a 2009 survey by Diagnostics Plus, found that while improvements have been made since the last 2006 survey, six areas still required comprehensive action.
Cyndy Gilchrest, director of pupil services, presented the report along with several members of the task force including Lynn Sellon, Barbara Fischetti, Wendy Sobelman and Marina Derman.
Among the recommendations were: extended school year (ESY) programs for special education students with the same staff to ensure continuity; improved referrals to special education; better student evaluations; a due process action plan that respects parents and their concerns about denial of services; providing parents with a revised Westport Special Education handbook, as well as planning and placement team (PPT) pamphlet; and offering parents of preschool children clear information about the delivery of services.
“One of the strengths of Westport is the safety net,” said Donald O’Day, board chairman. “Call it early intervention for students who haven’t been identified.”
Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon noted that the school board directed the task force, which completed its work in June, to review the survey results “and make budgetary and programmatic recommendations to the Superintendent of Schools that there responsive to those findings.”
“Among the budgetary recommendations was one that related to the supervision of the extended school year program,” said Landon. “As a result of the task force’s efforts, sufficient budgetary funds were allocated to restructure our ESY program and lower case loads in a very difficult budget year.”
In other matters, the five board members present voted unanimously to accept a $25,000 gift from the Staples High School Field Hockey Booster Club for a “scores shed “with loudspeakers. It was described by Mart Liservick, school athletic director, as “a mini-press box.”
The board also unanimously approved a new three-year contract with school system custodians, running through June 30, 2013.The contract provides 1.5, 2 and 2.5 percent wage increases respectively, increasing custodians’ medical and dental insurance contributions by 14, 15 and 16 percent over the same time period.
Also discussed was Landon’s revised policy on the eligibility of nonresident students who attend the Westport schools. He noted that some students have fraudulently enrolled saying they live with an extended family member when they do not. He also cited an example of someone who enrolled their child after merely renting storage space in Westport.
“The issue of residency has become a significant issue for us,” Landon said. “Part of it has to do with economics today, and it also has to do with changes in other districts and parents feel their children will get a better education here.”
Out-of-town students historically have paid to attend the Westport schools; however, Landon pointed out that is no longer the case since the system does not have the room. O’Day said further discussion of Landon’s revised policy would resume at a future date.
Posted 08/31/10 at 03:12 AM Permalink