The Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board of Education has endorsed a plan to hire an additional elementary school special education coordinator.
District 64 officials told the board that the program for elementary school students who have significant disabilities “is not working well.”
District 64’s elementary special education coordinator is responsible for traveling between four elementary schools. The district’s assistant director of student services is responsible for the district’s fifth elementary school, according to a report prepared for the board.
Special education coordinators are responsible for modeling best practices for staff while observing classroom lessons “to support student learning,” according to the report. In addition, coordinators attend meetings to craft individualized education plans for disabled students. Those federally mandated plans determine what services students are to receive and what accommodations must be made for them.
“Unfortunately, the elementary school model is not working well, as the coordinator’s assignment of four buildings is too large to provide staff with the appropriate support,” according to a report prepared for the board. “Under the current model, the elementary coordinator spends a little more than one day at each building, with most of that time being spent in IEP meetings. As a result, the coordinator has little time to support staff in the classroom, lead professional development on best practices, and observe and support students in the classrooms.”
District 64 has two middle school special education coordinators, and that model “is working much better as that coordinator is able to spend 2.5 days at each building throughout the week,” according to the report.
“With an additional coordinator, the four elementary buildings would be split evenly between two coordinators, while the assistant director continues to support one elementary building as part of her duties,” according to the report. “It is the belief that if we replicate the support provided at the middle school, where the coordinator is able to spend 2.5 days at each building, the district will be able to positively impact the support we provide students and staff at the elementary level in special education.”
The addition of a coordinator will offer students with disabilities a “better quality education” and increase equity and fairness throughout the district, said Mike Padavic, the interim student services director.
The salary for the position is budgeted for $74,000 annually, according to the report.
District officials are preparing to launch an audit of the district’s special education policies and programs after some parents objected to a proposal to have some students with disabilities start middle school one year early. District officials have since dropped that proposal.
Tom Fisher, a parent of a special education student, said he was frustrated that the audit has not yet begun — and that board members have not taken parents up on their offer to help craft the scope of the assessment.
“Time is of the essence,” Fisher said. “Children are suffering.”
Superintendent Laurie Heinz said she and Padavic were “working diligently” behind the scenes on the audit.
The results of that audit may lead the District 64 administration to return to the board to request funds for new positions “based on recommendations that may be received concerning the district’s current service delivery model,” according to the report to the board.
District officials were scheduled this week to begin interviewing the candidates to replace Padavic, who joined the district in January after the retirement of Jane Boyd in December. He is not seeking the position permanently.
After two rounds of interviews, finalists for the position will be interviewed by board members at an upcoming public meeting, Heinz said.
The next meeting of a support group designed to address concerns about the district’s special education programs will take place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 7 at Lincoln Middle School, 200 S. Lincoln Ave., Park Ridge.
The meeting will focus on how special education programs are funded in the district’s budget, Heinz said.
In all, District 64 anticipates 73 more students enrolling during the 2018-19 school year than attended class during the 2017-18 school year. If those predictions prove correct, that will require seven more teachers to be hired, according to the report.
The board directed District 64 Chief Business Officer Luann Kolstad to reach out to parochial schools within the school district’s boundaries to get a better sense of how many students plan to attend a school in District 64.
Board member Larry Ryles said at least a portion of the growth of the district’s enrollment was due to the construction of several multifamily projects in Park Ridge, and that should lead district officials to impose impact fees.
In addition, the District 64 board discussed a plan to hire another elementary school assistant principal to allow both Carpenter and Franklin elementary schools to have their own No. 2 administrator. The two schools, which have seen their enrollment rise a combined 20 percent in six years, have shared an assistant principal since the 2012-13 school year.
That has “not proven as effective as anticipated,” said Joel Martin, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources.
Board member Tom Sotos expressed some concern about the plan, noting that Roosevelt Elementary School has approximately 660 students and has only one assistant principal. Franklin Elementary School has 513 students, and Carpenter has 462 students.
Martin said the proposed staffing would be appropriate for the schools’ needs.
In all, District 64 expects the additional staff members requested to cost approximately $986,000 annually in salaries and benefits.
A final vote to authorize the additional positions for the 2018-19 school year could come as soon as the next regular meeting of the District 64 board, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 12 at Carpenter School, 300 N. Hamlin Ave., Park Ridge.
Heather Cherone is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.