Money Saved, Programs Improved for Mam'k Special Ed

41 Staff Members Up for Tenure (See Below)

by Joan R. Simon

(October 23, 2008) Improved programs, innovative collaborations, and creative new plans for special education were showcased at the October 21st Mamaroneck School Board meeting. The Department of Support Services gave a fast-paced and comprehensive evaluation of special education and other support programs throughout the district and delineated its multi-faceted agenda for the coming two years.

Smaller Bond?

The board will be rethinking their decision to float a $40 milllion capital bond for repairs and fields and is asking for community input at a study session on October 30 at 7:30 pm in the tiered classroom at MHS.

See: Letters: Schools Look at Scaled-Down Bond: Oct 30 Meeting.

With the hiring of Dr. Anthony Minotti as assistant superintendent for student support services a year ago, the department now includes special education, guidance counselors, ESL, social workers, psychologists, speech therapists, occupational and physical therapists, and nurses.

Under this expanded umbrella, Dr. Minotti and his staff have been working to reduce the number of students classified under special education; to bring more students back into school programs from out of district placements; and to add multiple layers of support and intervention to struggling students, in both special and regular education. The report builds on an analysis by outside consultants last year that Dr. Minotti detailed to the board in February. (See: Board Considers Special Ed Ideas)

Dr. Minotti stressed that the district “has made an extreme effort to bring students back to the district” and increase in-school programs with additional staff and support. The net savings in the budget is more than $400,000. Currently there are 632 special education students attending Mamaroneck schools and 57 out of district placements.

Elementary Supports Means Fewer Children Need Special Ed

Roni Kramer, director of special education at the elementary level, reported on the initiatives in pre-K through grade 5. She described a drop over a three year period from 284 to 246 elementary students who were classified for special education. IST (Instructional Support Teams) was started three years ago to identify and support struggling students in the early grades, “to stop the flow of children going to special education,” Ms. Kramer said. . (See:Early Help for Struggling Students)

She reported that there are now 11 inclusive classes at the four elementary schools, which are co-taught by a regular and a special education teacher. The classes are assisted by a co-teaching coach, who also provides staff development to both regular and special ed teachers. There has been a reduction of students in the most restrictive setting of a special class, from 8 to 4 groupings. There are also two special classes for elementary autistic children, which keep more students in the district.

Range of Programs at Secondary Level

Karen Gatto, secondary special education director, reported that progress in the Hommocks and high school can be measured by the number of new and revised programs. At the Hommocks all classified students are integrated into the team and house structure and the co-teaching model has been in effect for many years. Added focus is being given to help students make a smooth transition from middle school to high school.

At the high school, four programs are serving both special and regular ed students who are struggling: Project Success, Transition Academy, STEP and STRIVE (formerly CORE). With the assistance of a newly-hired transitional counselor, the programs help students by offering alternative academic courses, interdisciplinary instruction, internships and volunteering opportunities, vocational classes, and transitional support for post-high activities. In addition, there is an increased infusion of technology, with the development of assistive technology teams in each school and an assistive technology specialist who is about to be hired.

Work is continuing in both schools on RTI (response to intervention), a state mandated program which seeks to identify students at risk and to provide support.

Over-Classification of Hispanic Students?

Dr. Minotti spoke of growing concerns about the “over-identification of Hispanic students.” Hispanic students represent 16.6% of the school population, but 24.8% of children in special education, the large majority with speech and language disabilities. “The question of English language learners is a very big issue for us,” remarked Marge Gasthalter who heads the speech and language department. “Are the children being classified because of their language learning?” she asked, rather than for an actual language or speech disability.

This is one reason why ESL was moved over to the support services department, Dr. Minotti explained. In addition, the PALMS program, which was started two years ago at the Hommocks to help Latino students and parents focus on graduation and college, has been brought to the high school (see: PALMS Program Helps Latino Students Aim for College). PATHS (Program Alignment Team for Hispanic Students) is a newly created preK-12 initiative to better align present support services for Latino students and their families to improve school performance.

Special Education Task Force is Launched

A Special Education Task Force of parents, teachers and administrators has begun to evaluate the programs and procedures of the support services department. Its focus will include cross district criteria for classification; improved assessment; coordination with general education; and out of district placements.

New York State mandates a 2-year special education plan for every district. Following the presentation, the board voted to approve Dr. Minotti's interim report and will review the final report in June when the task force has completed its work.

Staff Eligible for Tenure

The board will be considering the following 41 candidates who are eligible for tenure this year. The successful candidates will be awarded tenure at the May 12, 2009 board meeting.

Adminstrators: Alice K. Borsella, Asst. Principal, Mamaroneck Ave.; Edgar J. McIntosh, Asst. Principal, Central; Cruz M. Soler, Asst. Principal, Murray; Michael J. Kollmer, Dir. of Instructional Technology

Districtwide: Barbara Dean, Instructional Coach

Central School: Diana Barbieri; Anne Corsetti; Mary O'Leary Conroy

Chatsworth: Johanna Scozzafava; Ana Urrutia-Wenig; Erica Zimmerman

Mamaroneck Ave: Laura Caterino; Angela Fazzolari; Michelle Mariash; Deborah Ann Polykarpous; Juliana Sage

Murray: Linda Baker; Colleen Melnyk

Hommocks: Cecilia Anon; Loyda Bernardez; Adonis Calderon; Susan Douglas; Steven Goldstein; Mary Herrmann; Judith Keneally; Nancy Kosakow; James Mullen; Jaclyn Nandlal; Shalini Sudarsanan; Stacie Tramontozzi; Pedro Vega

High School: Patricia Chillemi; Laurie Derosa; Catherine Devlin; Elena Filippova; Lucy Harayda; Melissa Katz; Tiffany Murnan; Jill Shoffiett-Sageman; Marcus Siotkas; Joe Toombs