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Pupil Services Director Reports On Special Ed Practices



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Pupil Services Director Reports On Special Ed Practices

By Eliza Hallabeck

In a prepared report for the Board of Education presented at its meeting on Tuesday, October 4, Director of Pupil Services Michael Regan compared and contrasted special education practices in Newtown in 2003, when he started in the district, and now.

“We’ve taken great efforts to ensure that we are giving students access to highly specialized education,” said Dr Regan.

Throughout the presentation Dr Regan listed different measurements associated with special education in Newtown that have changed since the 2003-04 school year. In 2003-04, Dr Regan said, there were 517 special education students in Newtown. Last school year, he continued, there were 431.

Other differences he mentioned included a lower number, by eight, of out of district placements, students that attend school in other districts to receive the assistance they need. In 2003, Dr Regan reported there were 29 students in the district with autism, and in the 2010-11 academic year there were 76, an increase he said that reflects the national trend.

“If our kids are not learning, then we are not successful in anything that we do,” said Dr Regan before speaking about Newtown’s performance on the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT). In the 2005-06 school year, the farthest back he could compare, 47 percent of the special education students who took the CMT earned proficiency on the test. In 2010-11 that percent increased to 76.2 percent, he reported.

Other increases in the special education department, Dr Regan said, include the number of hours special education students spend in the regular education classrooms, the number of full-time special education teachers in the district, the number of assistants in the district, the number of trainers, the number of occupational therapists, the number of physical therapists, and the number of behavior analysts.

Newtown, Dr Regan said, is the only district in the state of Connecticut with two behavior analysts on staff. Other districts, he said, contract out for those needs at “a very high rate.”

The only decrease from 2003 to 2011, he said, was in the number of social workers who work in the district.

“You can see we have increased the staff,” said Dr Regan, “to provide quality instruction. We’ve gotten good results. Staff is not only teaching, that’s only part of the routine of special education, because in addition to teaching and caring for the kids, they have legal and administrative things that they have to do.”

Another increase, Dr Regan noted, was the amount of money spent on hiring outside help. In the 2002-03 academic year, Dr Regan said the school district spent $18,525 on bringing specialists into the district. Last school year the district spent $111,551.

“The district is willing to go and pursue what is needed to ensure that our students are getting what they need on an ongoing basis,” said Dr Regan.

To the “taxpayers in the audience” on Tuesday, Dr Regan said the increases were “done in a manner, I think, that shows some degree of fiscal restraint and responsibility.”

Dr Regan pointed out there was a 9.48 percent increase in the special education budget from 1999 to 2003, and in the 2003-04 academic year, he said, there was an increase of 17.38 percent. On average, Dr Regan continued, there was a 2.3 percent increase in the special education budget annually from 2004 to 2011.

“So how did we do this? I didn’t rob a bank,” said Dr Regan. “We looked at untapped financial resources in this district.”

Dr Regan said implementing an accounting system to monitor in-district spending on all expenditures related to special education and by pursuing grants, such as the special education Excess Cost Grant with the state, the district was able to increase staffing and more without overly increasing the annual budget.

“We’ve been able to provide for positive educational outcomes for our students overall, and that is a testament to the hard work of the staff,” said Dr Regan. “We’ve expanded services to our students. We have things and are doing things that districts in Connecticut would hope to be able to do and always ask, ‘Can we come and see what you guys have done?’”

In response to a question from Board of Education Vice Chair Debbie Leidlein regarding the recurring challenges of meeting the state’s Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) report standards at Reed and Newtown Middle School, with Reed students not testing to the test’s standards this year, Dr Regan said teams have been set up to monitor the situation. He also said there will be an ongoing discussion at Reed over the next school year.

Dr Regan said meeting the annual rise of the AYP targets will be the special education department’s biggest challenge in the future.

For Reed, Dr Regan said either Reed Principal Sharon Epple or the director of pupil services will report back to the school board later in the school year with a plan for helping students test at a higher level on the CMT.


Public Participation

The special education department also received praise from multiple speakers during the meeting, and criticism from one parent.

Resident Barb Sibley said she wanted to publicly thank the special education department, later naming the preschool system at Head O’ Meadow Elementary School and the kindergarten program at Sandy Hook School in particular.

“We consider it our great privilege to live in a town where our child or a child like our son can be nurtured so thoroughly on a path for personal and academic achievement, and we will always be grateful for the role that Newtown’s special educators have played in giving him the tools that he needs to give him a productive and happy life,” said Ms Sibley.

Resident Annette Barbour said her family has a longstanding relationship with the pupil personnel department.

“My husband and I have always found them to be extremely professional, approachable, any issues or concerns that we had over our daughter’s program, they were always willing to address with us,” said Ms Barbour.

Through the years, Ms Barbour said the program has improved.

“I would have no problem telling a family who moves into town who has a child that may need an IEP or a 504 that the right people are here to help them,” Ms Barbour said.

Just before Ms Barbour spoke, resident Susan McGuinness Getzinger said she is not one of the people satisfied with the special education department in Newtown. (See the related story.)

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