Manatee learning disabled program called 'broken'

eearl@bradenton.comJune 12, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Exceptional Student Education program "is broken here," deputy superintendent of instruction Diana Greene told principals and assistant principals Tuesday.

"I don't know how it got that way, and I don't really care," Greene said at the leadership workshop. "We are going to fix it."

Greene spoke with conviction about restructuring the program, which serves students with learning disabilities and other special

needs.

Greene said she plans to restructure the district's Exceptional Student Education and English for Speakers of Other Languages programs.

"Diana and I agree that there needs to be ESE overhaul," Superintendent Rick Mills said during the meeting in the Braden River High School auditorium.

Greene said any flexible dollars in the budget will go to repair Exceptional Student Education.

"Students are getting out in the wrong places and we have to fix it," Greene said. "We had $11 million in fines, with most of those in ESE."

Most of the ESE fines were for inadequate, incomplete or missing individualized plans for students with special needs, Greene said.

Greene said Exceptional Student Education students need exposure to grade-level material and she plans to put the students in mainstream classes so they will get that exposure.

"The state said that 90 percent of ESE students should be served in a general education class," Greene said.

Greene said she is not phasing out Exceptional Student Education. She wants to hire ESE aides who can help students with special education needs in general classes.

"They support the general class teachers on services to provide," Greene said.

Greene said the district is hiring a new director of Exceptional Student Education, re-filling an existing position with someone new. The new director will then need to add more aides and evaluate any additional changes needed within the department.

"The types of services in Exceptional Student Education need to be done correctly," Greene said. "There are only 12 specialists in the district. That is not enough to properly service the number of ESE students we have in the district."

Greene said the primary problems with Exceptional Student Education is incorrect program paperwork and poor organization.

"The amount of paperwork involved is overwhelming," said Ruby Zickafoose, assistant principal of Wakeland Elementary. "We need to think about what needs to be done from the school perspective."

Greene also said the district needs to improve the English for Speakers of Other Languages program by providing extensive training to student parents in the program.

A key position will be the director of school improvement, one of the seven positions created under Mills' reorganization plan, which Greene said will be funded with federal Title I money targeted for schools that serve high percentages of low-income families.

Verdya Bradley, associate director of innovative programs and parental options, will be moved to the director of school improvement position. She will work with the district's large number of struggling elementary schools.

Greene told the principals she believes Mills' reorganization will bring consistency into the school district.

"Right now, we have random acts of excellence," Greene said. "They are happenstance, not a strategic guide. A school is up one year and plummeting another."

Greene said Mills' creation of executive directors for elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will improve the status quo. Greene said she believes an additional executive director is needed so they can split the elementary schools into two groups.

"It is going to be a challenge for one person," Greene said.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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