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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 9:46 am | Fair 54º


Santa Barbara School Board Creates Special-Ed Work Group

The group, made up of teachers, administrators, parents and others, will wade through recommendations in the FCMAT report

Special education was discussed at length on both sides of the dais Tuesday evening during the Santa Barbara School Districts’ Board of Education meeting.

“There’s nothing more important right now,” Associate Superintendent Robin Sawaske said.

Board members and residents expressed many concerns about how a discussion — or lack thereof — of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team report was being handled.

It took six weeks to get the report on the board agenda, and then only as an action item — never a discussion item — resident Karolyn Renard said.

After more than an hour of board discussion, the issue came full circle and agreement was reached on the creation of the work group.

“It’s very clear we have to have multiple, multiple conversations,” board president Kate Parker said.

The work group will include representatives from various stakeholder groups, including general and special-education teachers, administrators, parents and the Special Education Advisory Council.

The group will look through the list of FCMAT report recommendations, which includes more than 100 items. Priorities, implementation plans and suggested time lines will be made within the next few weeks, interim special-ed administrator Caryl Miller said.

“We’ll roll up our sleeves,” she said. She stressed that the work group would not just be advisory, but will develop an action plan.

“We’re looking for everyone’s help,” Sawaske said.

An additional program specialist position was approved by the board, while other staffing proposals were delayed to avoid impeding on the work group’s authority.

The department continues to recruit for its key administrators — including an executive director, directors and program specialists — though teaching and support staff will be in place by the time school starts, Miller said.

There also was discussion about the perceived disconnect already between certain stakeholder groups and the necessity of including them in the new work group.

Many special-education teachers reported low morale and identified with negative factors such as a lack of clear communication of expectations and lack of resources in FCMAT surveys. High turnover of department administrators contributed to poor communication among all groups, which the board hopes to rectify through the work group discussions and action plan.

“Our teachers don’t feel they have control over anything in special education,” board member Robert Noel said, referring to surveys of staff conducted by FCMAT. “We’re not empowering them to drive the process.”

Members of Spanish-speaking families expressed feeling disconnected because of a language barrier, a sentiment shown in FCMAT surveys of parents. There is translation available at board meetings, but they’re broadcast four days later and only in English.

Miller, praised at the meeting for her work, said she is not intimidated by the tasks ahead — including a near-overhaul of the special-education department with no administrative staff yet in place.

“I love challenges like this,” she said. She recently retired from work in the Long Beach and Riverside area. She has years of experience in the education system and special education, including being a Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) director for 18 years.

Those interested in getting involved in the special-education work group can contact Maria Nielson at 805.963.4338 x 252 or Miller at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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