laura rodriguez

New York

PEP okays special ed funding plan, despite requests for caution

New York

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."
New York

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.
New York

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.