PITTSFIELD, Mass. — School administrators are looking to revamp the therapeutic program.
The district is expecting to see a $1.1 million increase in state support for education and Superintendent Jason McCandless wants to use a portion of that to bolster the program for those with the most social, emotional, and academic needs at the elementary school level.
"We feel our students in this program are not making the academic gains as they should," Deputy Superintendent Joseph Curtis said.
The district now wants to allocate an additional $385,000 to the program, which will ultimately hire for six new positions. The elementary school program will then be shifted under one roof at Crosby Elementary.
Curtis said there will five classrooms to serve about 50 students. Those classrooms will be clustered together in the area currently for the preschool program. Each of those classrooms will have a licensed elementary content teacher, licensed special education teacher, and an experienced paraprofessional. That level of staffing helps keep the content teaching moving whereas now it is often interrupted by students having a crisis.
"Currently the model is that there is one licensed special education teacher in each classroom," Curtis said.
The district would also look to hire a full-time director to oversee that particular program. Curtis said even when he was a principal at Morningside, where two classrooms are currently located, he couldn't give enough attention to those students. The new director would have his full attention on that program and be readily available for the parents of those children.
The program will also have a full-time school adjustment counselor and full time registered behavior technician dedicated to it.
Curtis said the district will provide a significant amount of professional support to the co-teachers who will co-create and co-teach the lesson plans. The district is also working with Hillcrest Educational to bring in outside expertise to help implement the newly revamped program. The district is also looking to include a late start on Wednesday to provide time for the teachers and paraprofessionals to game plan — but that has to be agreed to by the parents so isn't finalized yet.
"It is not simply we put two adults in the same space. They will need a lot of professional support," Curtis said.
The ultimate hope is that the students get back into regular classrooms, though the administrators acknowledge that isn't always possible.
"We are holding a high standard for this and we want to increase our inclusion rates," Curtis said.
Currently, the therapeutic classrooms from kindergarten to third grade are at Crosby and fourth and fifth are at Morningside. The upper levels have different special education programs for the students.
Moving the entire program to Crosby provides easier management of the program and eliminates the transitions a student makes. For example, if in second grade a student at Allendale is determined to need a therapeutic program, then he has to switch schools to Crosby. And then later switch to Morningside. By having them all under one roof, there is a more cohesive structure.
Additionally, Curtis said there is a rear entrance to the space for community service providers such as the Brien Center to use if a student is in a crisis.
"This is an interesting solution to a very complicated problem. I'm so impressed with this concept because these are the kids who need the most," Mayor Linda Tyer said of the plan.
In total, the project would use the existing staff but add the five elementary school content teachers and a director.
McCandless told the story of a student who went through the elementary school therapeutic programs, went back to the classroom, and later graduated as one of the top two students in the high school.
"There can be great things that happen with those students," McCandless said.
McCandless said "there is an absolute crisis level need to subvert the school to prison pipeline" and the best way is to work with the students as early as possible.
"It is really what we feel ethically and educationally obligated to do," McCandless said.
The $385,000 to revamp that program is coupled with $600,000 to keep the entire district even in terms of staffing and programming and restore kindergarten paraprofessionals to create a total increase of $985,000 to next year's budget. That would be offset by the state's $1.1 million increase.
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