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Grade Configuration Steering Committee Meeting Summary

Dec. 19, 2016: Special populations

  • Debby Sharpe-DeFries, director of special education, and Tom Giglio, director of English-as-a-new-language (ENL) and refugee services, presented on their respective special populations and the impact providing them with equitable services will have on the long-term planning of a permanent middle school

    • It is important to note that while a significant portion of their presentations provided background information on special education and ENL policies and procedures, the focus of the grade configuration committee is not specific programming. The committee's primary concern with special population should be that adequate space is allocated to meet the needs of their rapidly growing numbers so they can be served in the most equitable manner possible

  • Ms. Sharpe-DeFries' presentation covered the special education population, and can be viewed here

    • Provided an overview of the steps in the special education process, including eligibility determination and the breakdown of classification among students

      • Several committee members had questions regarding the terminology of classifications, as well as program specific questions. Information on these policies can be found in the supplemental document provided here

    • Stressed the importance of special education as a service, not a place. However, there are still numerous space factors to consider

      • Special education classrooms contain significantly fewer numbers of students, but still require dedicated classroom space. For example two 6:1:3 classes (6 students, 1 teacher, 3 teaching assistants) may contain 12 total students, but would still require two separate classrooms

      • The number of associated service providers, including speech and language therapists, social workers, school psychologists and behavior specialists all require office space

      • Transitions can be especially difficult for special education students, and keeping strands of students together and in the same building minimizes this impact

      • The physical layout of the building should be considered, including elevators and proximity to services, nurses and exits

      • The overall goal is to provide the least restrictive services possible

  • Mr. Giglio's presentation covered the ENL and refugee population, and can be viewed here

    • The number of ENL students in the district is growing an extremely rapid rate; ENL numbers have increased from approximately 300 in 2011-12 to approximately 1300 during the current school year. So far throughout 2016-17, as many as 40-50 students have arrived each month

      • This is due primarily to the federal government's designation of Albany as a relocation area for refugees

      • Until the summer of 2016, refugees were arriving primarily from Southeast Asia. Currently, the majority of refugee students are arriving from the Middle East

      • Regardless of their country of origin, these families are not transient; the overwhelming majority remains in Albany. They should not be viewed as outsiders; they are as much a part of this city as any other family and deserve equitable treatment

    • Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, each middle school will need three full ENL classrooms with three ENL teachers, and these numbers will continue to increase in the coming years

      • As an alternative to piecemeal development of ENL programs in each building, a Newcomer School has been proposed

        • This school would serve between 200-300 students, with approximately 75 at the middle-school level

        • This would be an optional program for newly arriving ENL families, and after two years of attending, students would transition to their neighborhood school

        • The middle school side of North Albany Academy will be vacant as of 2017-18 and would be an ideal location for a Newcomer School

        • The 50 North Lark facility was also discussed as a potential home for the Newcomer School, which raised concerns by committee members about the transformation of the neighborhood school that will exist there for the interim

          • However, regardless of the ultimate use for 50 North Lark, a permanent middle school will be opened on the north side of the city

          • Additionally, it is important to note that these ENL and refugee families comprise a significant portion of the district, live throughout the city and belong to these neighborhoods as well

        • It is also important to note that the creation of a Newcomer School in not intended to fully replace ENL programs at the middle-school level, but to reduce the rapid influx of students and provide them with a more comfortable transition to neighborhood schools

    • The regulations included in CR Part 154 of recently enacted legislation were also discussed at length, including their impact on the structure of programming and the space required for it

      • These are especially difficult accommodations as they are all unfunded mandates; compliance is mandatory, but no money is provided to enact the changes

      • ENL students may now only receive services grouped within two contiguous grade levels, limiting the number of students that can be placed in each class. As an example, students in kindergarten, first and second grade may all demonstrate a similar level of proficiency, but they can only be grouped as either kindergarten and first grade, or first and second grade. This increases the number of classrooms that must be dedicated to ENL students

      • The establishment of a Newcomer School would meet the requirements put into place by CR 154

      • The pooling of resources and staff into an existing facility (such as North Albany Academy) would be an efficient and cost-effective solution




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