Special Education evaluator Dr. Ann Monroe-Baillargeon recommended the Clarkstown School District look at the consistency of services provided in its schools. Her 18-page report, which was submitted in June, recommended the transfer of some elementary school special education classes to other schools so students can have a consistent setting from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Specific recommendations included moving the Bardonia Elementary School’s special needs kindergarten class to Congers Elementary School to create a special needs kindergarten through 5th grade program. She noted this consolidation would provide a continuum of services through the elementary school years at the same location.
School Board President Joe Malgieri read the report and is waiting to hear recommendations from Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction & Professional Development Valerie Henning-Piedmonte on how the district should proceed. He expects the report, which is available online, will be discussed at the board’s next meeting on September 27 or the following session on October 11.
Additionally, Dr. Monroe-Baillargeon suggested a similar move of the kindergarten and first grade special needs classes at Laurel Plains Elementary to Congers Elementary. At Woodglen Elementary School, a special needs elementary kindergarten or combined kindergarten/first grade class depending upon enrollment was proposed so special needs students could remain at the school.
She noted, “consistency with administration, teaching staff and school community will maintain home-school relationships and communication for children and families.”
For the Birchwood School, which serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade, Dr. Monroe-Baillargeon recommended a transition plan. It would cover pupils moving in and out of the school with an emphasis on placing them in inclusive classrooms. The report recommended more across the board use of best practices in classrooms and additional professional development for teachers and other staff.
Dr. Monroe-Baillargeon suggested a review of the special education program responsibilities that now fall under the director of pupil services. Her report noted the transfer of the district’s director of special education to director of pupil services several years ago “has resulted in limiting the administrative resources available in the area of strategic planning in curriculum and instruction in programs serving students with disabilities while adding additional duties to the office of director of pupil services.”
She conducted focus groups, which noted the push for assessment results while less emphasis was placed on curriculum and instruction in special education and general education programs. Comments made at those sessions pointed out inconsistences in instruction and resources in the elementary schools as well as in programming for special needs students.
Her analysis was conducted from January through March including several site visits. The board of education hired her in October to review Clarkstown’s kindergarten through 12th special education services after state test scores showed some groups of special education students were not meeting New York standards. Over the course of several years, the previous Superintendent Dr. Margaret Keller-Cogan had requested an evaluator be hired.
Additionally, Dr. Monroe-Baillargeon recommended expansion of the assessments conducted when pre K students move into kindergarten and elementary school students transition to middle school. She remarked that it was not clear if sufficient data was collected and reviewed before the decision was reached to reclassify students and place them in general education classrooms.
She stated improvements to communications with parents were necessary and should be consistent. She noted school websites could be used for teachers and staff to post homework, student grades and upcoming events. Additionally, parents should have opportunities such as open forums to learn about and ask questions concerning changes in special education and education programs.
Dr. Monroe-Baillargeon‘s included district materials, online surveys, classroom visits and focus groups with stakeholders. She visited Clarkstown on January 5 and 6 to tour classrooms, and on February 13 and 14 and March 5 and 6 to conduct focus groups with parents, teachers, teaching assistants, administrators and specialists. She also utilized IEPs (Individualized Education Program), report card data, district publications and website information as resources for her report.
She received 924 responses to online surveys .The majority came from parents followed by teachers, teaching assistants, specialists and administrators. 253 of those stakeholders participated in focus groups.