Dr. Johnson Lobbying To Hire Special Education Assistant
By: Alex Scofield
There are about 600 special education students in the Sandwich school district, and monitoring their educational progress requires the efforts of more than just one administrator, said Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson.
Dr. Johnson pitched the job description for an assistant special education director at a school committee meeting late last month.
She said considering the size of the district and the number of special education students that are currently enrolled in Sandwich schools, the work of attending to the needs of all those students was too much for any one administrator.
The school committee tabled a vote to give Dr. Johnson the go-ahead to advertise for the position, citing an informal policy suggested by board member Sharron L. Marshall that does not not allow them to decide major issues the first time they are introduced before the board.
This week, Dr. Johnson stressed the importance of adding a layer of administrative support to the special education office to ensure that the needs of the district’s special education students are met.
According to the superintendent, the lion’s share of a special education director’s time is spent in meetings with parents ensuring that their students’ individual education plans are being fulfilled.
“There are close to 300 meetings per year,” Dr. Johnson said. “One person cannot go to all those meetings themselves.”
Interim Special Education Director Merle Montani, who will be leaving the district at the end of this year, said she would advise the district to hire an assistant special education director to work with her successor.
“We spend a lot of time in meetings, working on legal issues and issues related to compliance,” she said. “You can’t do it yourself. You spend a lot of time talking to parents, and you want it to be positive communication.”
School committee member Jessica A. Linehan, who has been vocal about her concerns over the district’s spending on administrative salaries and professional development, said she would need to be convinced by Dr. Johnson not only that the position was needed, but also that it would not be cut from the budget in the middle of the school year.
“If this is what’s best for students, then I need be assured that it’s a position that’s going to be around for a long time,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s possible to give such assurances during a school committee meeting.”
She also said she had concerns about the district’s ability to afford the added administrator.
State special education circuit breaker funds were slashed mid-year and there are no promises it will not happen again in 2011, she said.
Ms. Linehan added that similarly sized or larger districts, like Falmouth and Dennis-Yarmouth, did not have assistant special education supervisors.
Dr. Johnson said the special education department had funds in its budget to support the position for next year, which she predicted would cost in the area of $70,000.
“It would a school year position, rather than a full-year position. The person would have to have a supervisor’s certificate,” Dr. Johnson said. “They would probably earn the same amount as an assistant principal.”
Ms. Linehan said she was hoping to see some more stability from the district’s upper level administration before she approved any new positions.
She said that, in her opinion, the shifting in administrative staff, including the mid-year termination of former assistant superintendent Maxine L. Minkoff, has been a detriment to the school district.
“I’m really not sure which way I’ll vote on this,” she said. “If this is what’s needed for students, then I’ll be inclined to vote in that direction, but I don’t think this constant shifting and changing of positions is good for students.”
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