Tom Clay

Overview on Special Education Provided

The following is a transcript of the Nov. 17, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For other parts of the meeting, click here.

7:30 p.m. – The meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Superintendent Bill Olsen honored Michael Yeager and Justin Yao, both of whom received Academic Awards from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

They received questions from School Committee members Margaret Murray, David Keele and School Committee Chairman Tom Clay and made several comments.

DSC_00157:43 p.m. – Olsen began his Superintendent’s Update with news that 500 flower bulbs have been planted recently at the middle schools.

He then said that $300 had been donated to a soup kitchen and students at Westford Academy are helping make pies for the Cameron Senior Center.

Olsen then talked about artwork done by students in the hallway and talked about the loss of Jack Doucette, a former educator and administrator in Westford schools.

He requested to convene the naming committee to name a new learning commons at the Blanchard School in honor of Doucette.

Keele said he was a student of Doucette and offered memories and praise of him and his wife, who was also a teacher in Westford.

7:49 p.m. – Next was the School Committee update.

School Committee Member Arthur Benoit reminded everyone that In The Heights is playing at Westford Academy.

Clay talked about progress with the Full-Day Kindergarten Citizens Advisory Committee, including a survey they are asking local residents take part in.

He also said that he got an e-mail from a parent asking if the recent comet landing was integrated into the curriculum and that he recently met with the Westford Academy Student Council and a talk they had on reducing stress as well as tackling substance abuse.

Olsen said that a new law does not allow a zero-tolerance policy regarding substance abuse after it was brought up in Clay’s report.

Clay also said that the Student Council sought speakers closer to their age.

School Committee Member Erika Kohl was also at the meeting and said there was interest by the students on how to help friends with such issues.

Murray said that this was the first time during a meeting with the Student Council that there was so much emphasis on stress and substance abuse, indicating a need in the curriculum.

Clay said that School Committee Member Angela Harkness had signified interest in this topic, although she was not present.

The student representatives talked about success by Westford Academy’s cheerleaders, a principal from China, an update on Westford Academy football, DECA, and other items.

7:59 p.m. – No one in attendance had anything for public forum. Courtney Moran of Student Services began her report.

638 students are receiving special education services, 19 moved to Westford just this year. They range from 9 to 23 years old.

There is a range of services for those students and there is a new name for programs for students on the Autistic spectrum, the “REACH” program (Reaching Educational ACHievement).

Over the past year, there were a thousand team meetings.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education conducted a Mid-cycle Review of Special education and Westford Public Schools were in 100 percent compliance.

Many faculty members work year round, and there are now 6.5 preschool classes offered.

Last year an additional van was requested, now there are 17 vans with a back-up van owned by the schools.

There are 22 employees for the van and the vans are sent in various locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Then there was an item on the budget, with Moran saying the contract services budget item is normally overspent to ensure services for students.

This includes specialists for therapy, vision, orientation, hearing, Braille interpretation, a psychologist, and behavioral specialists.

Over the past several years, grant money for the budget item has ranged from approximately $940,000 to $900,000. However, this does not cover everything needed.

Requests for FY’ 16 include

–          A .5 FTE Out-of-District liason

–          A .4 FTE Special education Teacher at Stony Brook

–          And 2.0 FTE contingency Teaching Assistants

There may also be a need for an additional full-day kindergarten class.

8:12 p.m. – Murray said that the director of pupil services is one of the hardest jobs in any school district. She then asked for a comparison on team meetings over the past few years and asked several other questions on how the district can improve as well as budgetary questions.

Keele and Moran then had a discussion about the number of special needs students currently in kindergarten.

Kohl then asked a question on the split between what should be paid by the schools and what should be paid by fees in preschools.

Olsen said it’s generally close to 50/50, although that’s not directly tied to the ratio of special education to non-special education students, saying the ratio was sustainable.

School Committee Member Erika Kohl asked a follow up question regarding fees and the ratio. Olsen said that much more information on the budget will be provided throughout the processs.

Kohl then asked about the out-of-district liaison and their proposed salary.

Moran said she got that figure by taking 50 percent of two salaries in existing positions of student support leaders.

School Committee Member Arthur Benoit asked if Special education students are included in changes regarding the end of zero tolerance policies.

Olsen said that disciplinary measures did not specify Special education versus non-Special education students, with an elaboration by Moran.

Olsen said that there will be a presentation in two meetings on changes to expulsion laws.

School Committee Member Terence Ryan asked about the grants and if that was determined by the state. Moran said they were.

Murray asked if the state understood that some medical services should not come out of educational budgets.

Olsen said they were well aware of it, but there needs to be a legislative impetus to make changes and that he and Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli would talk to State Representative Jim Arciero on the issue.

Murray recommended putting in a dollar amount and then made a comment regarding the contingency teaching assistants and a growth in that line item in several years, asking if there was a need or a way they could be consolidated.

Moran said that efforts are always made to consolidate where possible and elaborated on efforts to balance efficiency and quality regarding transition from out-of-district transitions back to Westford’s schools for Special education students.

Murray then said more information on this would be needed in the future.

Clay then asked about how the ratios work and the Special education population and more analysis should be done on this.

Kohl then praised some of the work done by Moran mentioned that saves Westford schools money.

Clay asked if Moran had anything else, with Moran saying that she tries to keep Special education students in line with the general student population in terms of student performance, saying it is challenging in ways due to juggling for teachers, but her job is to reduce the stress from that juggling and the faculty is there to help all students.

Clay asked if all students feel included, Moran said yes, although there are some cases more difficult than others.