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Superintendent Addresses Special Education in Weston

Weston Superintendent Cheryl Maloney says she is committed to special education in the town's schools.

The state of special education in Weston has been a hot topic of conversation in recent weeks, as evidenced by several comments left on Weston Patch as well as a letter to the editor.

In particular, commenters have accused Weston Public Schools of failing its special education students and families, but that's an accusation that Superintendent Cheryl Maloney challenged in a response she issued Thursday.

"We believe that we are on the path to building a special education program that is strong, robust and worthy of the label 'excellent," Maloney wrote in her statement.

In the comment section of a recent Weston Patch article about school security, Isabella Jancourtz encouraged residents to speak up to Weston's Board of Selectmen about an "intolerable situation" for special education students in Weston schools.

In a prior comment Jancourtz said she felt the School Committee had been unresponsive to parent complaints about the state of special education and asked that someone step up and investigate complaints.

"If the school system and the town continue to be unresponsive, perhaps the matter should be referred to the state Commissioner of Education," Jancourtz wrote in a subsequent comment. "Clearly this is an intolerable situation which must be addressed and resolved to the satisfaction of the parents of our special needs children without further delay."

In her statement Thursday, however, Maloney said that she disagreed with many "facts and conclusions" presented in a recent newspaper guest column, but did want to stress her commitment to:

  1. The importance of supporting the learning and growth of all students in the Weston Public Schools.
  2. The positive leadership of our new Director and Assistant Director of Student Services.
  3. The need to strengthen targeted support for students challenged by specific disabilities.

Maloney said that Susan Strong, hired last year as the system's new director of student services, had been working to provide "significant" professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, assess of the schools' ability to support special education students, work with parents, and review "infrastructure for responding to the needs of families in and out of district."

Maloney went on to point out that her proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget includes funding for "six new programs with commensurate staffing, resources and technology." Those programs include "three Language Based Classrooms, a program supporting high school students whose emotional needs are interfering with learning, and three programs to support students with significant needs in social skills/adaptive behavior or self-help."

"While I will continue to celebrate the percentage of our students with individual education plans who are accepted into colleges, I am no less proud of those who, while unable to pass the MCAS and therefore receive a diploma, reach a goal of independence and a vocation of their choosing," Maloney concludes.

What has been your experience with special education in Weston? Tell us in the comments.

Michael Strassman January 29, 2013 at 06:27 PM
It remains to be seen whether the new special ed director, Susan Strong, and her asst, Sue Fisichella can bring change to Weston, but the fact is that Weston has lagged badly in the past in supporting special ed. Spending data for 2011 from the Dept of Education show that Weston's per-student spend is #30 overall in the state, but #270 in terms of the percent of the budget allocated to special ed. Rebuttals about the inaccuracy of state data are irrelevant in the face of such a huge gap...is Weston only #200 in the state?...It is still criminal for a town as affluent as we are. The school committee may indeed be turning a corner and willing to properly fund special ed, but there is a significant gap that needs to be closed to make the program adequate. To cite just a few shortcomings, we don't have a full-time BCBA (credentialed professional who oversees behavioral therapy, including ABA which is essential for treating autism...Wellesley has such a person on-staff), we employ large numbers of pseudo-professional tutors who are not trained to educate special needs children (this has documented numerous times and is a part of Mike Champa's article), and we have an egregiously low outplacement rate for special needs children compared to other towns. Outplacements show a district's willingness to pay for services they are ill-equipped to provide, and Weston is certainly no expert in this arena vs. other towns. We have neglected these kids in the past and must do better.

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