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June 12, 2012
Council hearing sheds dim light on special education reforms
Leroy Comrie, a councilman from Queens, speaks at NYC Parents Union rally before the city council hearing. After months of waiting to hear the results of a pilot program for the city's special education reforms, many advocates hoped they would finally get some answers today at a City Council hearing. But when Department of Education officials sat down to testify, there were few revelations. It's not that the DOE was witholding any new information. It was just that no such data yet existed, said Laura Rodriguez, the outgoing Deputy Chancellor of Special Education. Rodriquez said they had so far collected data for only a couple of measures – such as attendance and the rate of movement of students with special needs into general education settings – and that they hadn't focused on other key metrics. Advocates say that other important measures of success include suspension rates and parent surveys.
May 24, 2012
PEP okays special ed funding plan, despite requests for caution
As predicted, the Panel for Education Policy approved a budget formula Wednesday night meant to hasten the integration of special education students into general education classrooms. But before the vote, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez defended the spending plan — and the broader special education reforms that it is meant to facilitate — against charges that the city is asking schools to move too quickly on increasing inclusion of students with special needs. Critics say that Rodriguez's departure from the Department of Education next month should cause the city to pause the reforms, which are set to go citywide this fall after being delayed once before. Under the new formula, students who receive special education services for only a portion of the day would bring more city funds than students in self-contained settings for the entire day. No one at the meeting opposed the objectives behind the Department of Education special education reforms. But some worried that lack of understanding about special education students could cause confusion for parents, students, and teachers alike. "Everybody’s on the same page," said Wilfredo Pagan, the board member appointed by the Bronx borough president. "Most of us agree with the opportunity this reform brings to the table." "But let's slow it down here and see how we're going to re-approach this situation," he said.
May 15, 2012
Special ed caution urged as personnel, funding changes loom
During her brief stint as city schools chancellor, Cathie Black pulled the brakes on a planned rollout of special education reforms. Now, educators and parents are asking the city to slow things down once more. They say the departure of the city's top two special education officials will leave the Department of Education ill-equipped to carry out the planned reforms. They are also charging that the city's proposal to change the way special education instruction is funded could encourage schools to place disabled students in settings that are not ideal for them. The special education reforms are meant to encourage schools to move disabled students to settings that are less restrictive. The shift is in keeping with best practices in special education, and students are supposed to have their services changed only if it makes sense for them. But the city wants to add an incentive: Under a proposal likely to be approved next week, students who receive special education services for only a portion of the day would bring more city funds than students in self-contained settings for the entire day. It's a proposal that has educators and parents alike concerned. "When it comes to special education we all know that as you move a child to a less restrictive environment, it's a better thing, but it only works when it is appropriate for the child," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said at a union conference on Saturday. "When you start pushing to make that decision based on budget, then we have to start to question whether it's appropriate or not."
April 16, 2012
City's top special education deputy retiring as reforms roll out
The Department of Education's first-ever deputy chancellor for special education and English language learners is stepping down. Laura Rodriguez will leave the department at the end of June after 34 years working in the school system, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today. He has appointed Corinne Rello-Anselmi, a 33-year veteran who currently heads a branch of the department's school support structure, to replace Rodriguez. Rello-Anselmi began her career as a special education teacher and was briefly a deputy chancellor for special education after serving as principal of P.S. 108 in the Bronx. Then-Chancellor Joel Klein created the position, which supervises the instruction of about a quarter of a million children, in 2009 after department officials concluded a months-long review of the city's special education practices. Rodriguez, whose background was in supporting ELLs, was charged with integrating students with special needs into city schools. Under her leadership, the department selected about 200 schools that would accommodate all students. This fall, after a one-year delay, that pilot program is supposed to grow to include all city schools in a shift that some advocates and parents fear could be problematic for schools. The city has also proposed changing the way that schools are funded so that they have an incentive to spread students with special needs across all classrooms. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done between now and September to make that successful, so anyone coming in will have to jump right in," said Maggie Moroff, coordinator of the ARISE Coalition of special education advocacy groups. Moroff said she was surprised by the news of Rodriguez's retirement and had not met Rello-Anselmi during her monthly meetings with Rodriguez and other department officials.
April 4, 2012
Pace of change yields mixed reactions at Bryant closure hearing
Bryant High School teachers and students rally outside the school's 31st Avenue entrance before the closure hearing. Over a hundred teachers, students, and alumni converged at from William Cullen Bryant High School closure hearing last night to warn city officials that undergoing "turnaround" next year would harm the school. But some teachers said that rapid changes are already hitting the school under the hard-charging leadership of first-year principal Namita Dwarka. Bryant is one of eight Queens schools proposed for turnaround, which would require them to close and reopen this summer with a new name and many new teachers. The school counts former schools chancellor Joel Klein among its graduates, but it has struggled in recent years to meet the city's expectations. It landed on the turnaround list because of its lagging graduation rate, which last year was 56.5 percent, slightly lower than the city average. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer invoked Bryant's century-old legacy in a press conference outside the school and during the hearing. Sporting a lapel pin with the school's mascot, an owl, and other alumni, Van Bramer said the school's tradition of excellence brought pride to the community and should be preserved. Many teachers who spoke at the hearing shared his concern. But others expressed enthusiasm about changes at the school. The conflicting feelings reflected some of the tensions that have arisen since Dwarka took over as principal in September and, according to at least half a dozen teachers who have spoken with GothamSchools, began issuing low ratings to teachers who had never received them before.
February 1, 2010
City announces broad outlines of a special education overhaul
School officials outlined a plan to change the way city schools serve students with disabilities at a closed-door meeting this morning with special education advocates. The plan's first step: Telling schools they have to accept, and "embrace," students with special needs. "For too long, educating students with disabilities has meant separating them from their general education peers," Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said in a statement. "Today we are building on the premise that every school must be able to educate the vast majority of these children." That premise represents a badly needed advance for the city schools, according to special education advocates. "The principles in [the plan] are wonderful, but they've been law forever," said Maggie Moroff, who coordinates the ARISE Coalition but was not speaking on the coalition's behalf. "The overarching goals are exactly what they ought to be, it's just that in my mind they’re not so novel."
August 21, 2009
Klein's inner circle will include 4 educators this fall, up from 2
A frequent criticism of the Department of Education under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is that it is run by lawyers and businessmen instead of by educators. In fact, the number of educators reporting to Klein quietly doubled in the last few months. A recent issue of City Limits carried a story under the headline, "Teachers Missing at the Top." Indeed, at the end of the last school year, just one quarter of the people reporting directly to Klein — two out of eight people — had extensive experience in city classrooms. Now, after Klein replaced one top administrator with a former principal and added a new top-level position, four out of nine top administrators have extensive experience in city classrooms. The remaining five hold positions, such as in finance and legal affairs, that are unlikely to be occupied by educators in any school district, according to a department spokesman, David Cantor. Asked about the shift by GothamSchools, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein called the new numbers "an interesting observation." But he said he had not changed the way he chooses his deputies.
July 2, 2009
A culture shift in special education urged after internal review
Special education advocates are giving early praise to recommendations released today that would transform schools' approach to students with special needs. The recommendations, which Chancellor Joel Klein endorsed, center on integrating students with special needs into the city's ongoing school reforms. Garth Harries, a department official who is starting a new job in New Haven, Conn., on Monday, authored the recommendations following a months-long review of the city's special education offerings. Actually implementing the plans will be left to a new top-level administrator who will be responsible for nearly a quarter of the system's students. Laura Rodriguez, a longtime Bronx educator who currently heads one of the support organizations that principals can choose to join, will become the city's first Chief Achievement Officer for Special Education and English Language Learners. Rodriguez will be one of only seven people reporting directly to the chancellor, making the needs of nearly 250,000 disabled students and ELLs "visible and transparent at the cabinet level" for the first time, Klein said.
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