Wednesday, April 12, 2017

RISD Candidates on Special Education Services

I asked the candidates for Richardson ISD Board of Trustees their opinions on a range of subjects. To limit bias on my part, I did not phrase the subjects in the form of questions. I invited the candidates to focus on whatever aspect of the subject they think is most important for RISD voters to consider when casting a ballot on May 6. My desire is to publish the candidates' opinions in their own words, so I will post their responses, unedited and without any accompanying editorial comment.

For readability, I've collated the responses by subject and will post the subjects separately. The topic of this post is "Special Education Services."

Place 3
  • Joseph Armstrong:
    I have a family member in the Special Ed department at RISD, and therefore frequently get to discuss this program and its success’ and areas it could improve. In special education in RISD, we need the following things to have this continue to work to be a successful department within the district:

    More staff; More on campus staff, the folks working directly with our special needs students.

    Clear goals and vision; this applies really to all educators in the district, but is especially key in our special education department. We must have clear and focused leadership from the top, properly setting expectations and measuring success for the folks in the classroom.

    Communication; Communication must be a key focal point in the Special Education department; many times, from personal conversation I have had with folks in the district, this communication breakdown has come between the district and the parent/guardian of the child receiving those services. There is no one more important to communicate with and help to understand the process than the child’s caregiver.

  • Karen Clardy:
    I have personally witnessed a serious need for additional campus special education teachers and qualified support staff. I think it is the board’s responsibility to ensure that our special education classrooms have the teachers and staff, equipment and resources needed to care and teach these students. Our special needs students deserve nothing but the best that we can give them. It is imperative that allocations are increased dramatically and quickly to help ease this long-standing problem. I am encouraged that under the leadership of our new Special Education Director, Dr. Cindy Lawrence that we will see some much-needed improvements in this area.

  • Eric Eager:
    From what I understand, several years ago, there was a severe gap in resources available to help the districts special needs students. It was brought to the attention of the Board and a 3 rd party firm was commissioned to conduct an audit and produced a list of recommendations. The hiring of Dr. Cindy Lawrence to head a team of special needs professionals was just one of the many recommendations that were implemented.

    While there has been significant progress, it is projected that in 2017 RISD will have over 4,300 students who will need special education services. At the last board meeting it was discussed that Dr. Lawrence will be bring her recommendation for additional resources before the next budget cycle. In the coming budget year, the board will need to make sure that they have adequate special needs specialist to meet the needs of the growing demand. It is necessary to ensure that the board is doing its best to provide a quality education to all students.

  • Ben Prado:
    This is a sensitive subject, and rightfully so. This is a similar area of concern as School Choice. I, Ben Prado, pledge full support to the reformation and expansion of Special Education services. It is simply our duty to do so. Our district has many different departments and programs in place for Special Education - yet, we find ourselves in situations where we wonder if we are truly doing as much as we can. If we can ask ourselves that question, then we know we can do better. As a board member, I will introduce an idea to create a task force to analyze and evaluate the strength of our Special Education services. If we find any areas that need improvement or re-structuring, that will be done.

Place 6
  • Justin Bono (incumbent):
    First, I was proud of a recent Dallas Morning News article that showed Richardson ISD leading area districts with 10.5% of their students served through special education services. Based on a recent presentation to the Board, this number has now grown to over 11%. In a time when there have been allegations that school districts and the State have been managing to an arbitrary 8.5% cap, I’m proud that RISD continues to work on a student by student basis to determine the appropriate educational needs for each.

    This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to continue to provide resources for special education students. Just as with many areas in our district, we are under resourced and expect to have a significant needs list from all departments this year, special education included. With a significant number of our students (over 4,000) receiving special education services, we have growing budget needs in this department. As a trustee, I will continue to work to find ways to address the needs in special education and other departments that are under resourced.

Place 7
  • Lynn Davenport:
    According to the last school board meeting, RISD is serving 11.03% of students for Special Education. RISD has denied any state-wide caps on Special Ed services, but I still have questions about how children are identified. It was apparent at the board meeting that RISD is making Special Education services a priority.

  • Kristin Kuhne (incumbent):
    During my first three years on the board, I have been committed to providing appropriate staffing, support and training to meet the needs of all students. Based on board requested audits of special education and dyslexia services, I pushed for additional resources to support students and teachers by providing (1) funding to increase staffing for both dyslexia services and special education and (2) expanded professional development for teachers that now exceeds state requirements. Because of these changes, among others, special education students have realized double digit gains in student performance across all content areas. As a trustee focused on student success, for special education and all students, I set goals for student growth, provide appropriate resources and hold the superintendent responsible through management oversight. All students will learn, grow and succeed in Richardson ISD.

Part 3 of 6.

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