After learning that Wilton students with disabilities \u201ccontinue to under-perform as related to students without disabilities,\u201d Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Ann Paul said she and other administrators started searching for a consultant group to conduct a review of its special education practices and services. During the Board of Education\u2019s Dec. 4 meeting, Ms. Paul shared some of the 2012-13 data and CMT scores,\u00a0 saying, there is \u201csome evidence that the achievement gap between general and special education students widens.\u201d In 2012-13, compared to the state and District Reference Group (DRG) A averages, to which Wilton belongs, Ms. Paul said, Wilton was found to have the highest prevalence rate of students with learning disabilities \u2014\u00a08.2%. Ms. Paul said the data also revealed that 5.1% of Wilton\u2019s 4,289 students during the 2012-13 school year were classified as learning disabled, compared to the state average of 4% and the DRG A average of 3.7%. \u201cOne of the hallmark features of a school system that\u2019s high-achieving for all its students, like Wilton, is an ongoing process of systemic improvement,\u201d said Ms. Paul. Despite Wilton\u2019s dedicated staff, engaged parent community and supportive education board, said Ms. Paul, the process of district-wide systemic improvement\u00a0 has\u00a0 led her to question: \u201cCan we do our work for children and families better, and if so, how do we understand, design and implement a plan to get us there?\u201d Consultant search During the district\u2019s review of consultant groups, Ms. Paul said, a proposal from the District Management Council has stood out. \u201cI really like their process, called \u2018A Special Education and Struggling Students Opportunities Review,\u2019\u201d said Ms. Paul. \u201cIt extends out into general education and all of our students who are struggling in academic areas.\u201d The council\u2019s \u201cmulti-faceted\u201d and \u201cmulti-year\u201d process aims to improve student achievement, increase parent satisfaction and effectively use the district\u2019s resources, said Ms. Paul. The first phase of the council\u2019s opportunity review process centers on gathering \u201ca very deep understanding\u201d of the current status of the district\u2019s special education program, said Ms. Paul. \u201cThey look at the other interventions and support in the district, data review, observations, a lot of work with focus groups, and an analysis of the utilization of staff time,\u201d she explained. \u201cThe second phase involves research \u2014 looking more systematically at what we use in the district. It\u2019s that analysis balanced with a lot of in-person stakeholder interviews, because we always want to include our parent community in these discussions.\u201d Ms. Paul said the council would also compare Wilton to other school districts in the state, as well as the country, so see where it stands. \u201cTheir goal, as they shared it, is not to produce a report,\u201d she said, but to produce real improvements for students and bring about meaningful, measurable and sustainable change. Ms. Paul asked the board for its support of the review in order to \u201censure that the programs and services we provide for special needs students are the most effective in helping them make progress as we measure. \u201cWe measure a student\u2019s progress in relation to their own skill development and we measure it in relation to their typical peers,\u201d Ms. Paul told the board. \u201cThe goal is to improve student outcomes and ... I really think that\u2019s what our parents want \u2014 an assurance that we\u2019re being very thoughtful and careful with our eye to improving outcomes for their students.\u201d Funding Depending on the level of services provided, the cost of\u00a0 the District Management Council\u2019s review would be between $125,000 and $200,000, Financial Director Ken Post told The Bulletin. \u201cSince the project will begin this fiscal year and be completed next fiscal year, it is our intent to split the cost between the two years,\u201d said Mr. Post. \u201cFor next year, we will allocate funds in our proposed budget. For the current year, we are going to use expected surpluses in salary and employee benefits accounts to cover the cost.\u201d Board feedback Superintendent Kevin Smith said even though the district is in the process of gathering other proposals, he decided to bring the District Management Council\u2019s to the board in order to \u201cintroduce the conversation about conducting a special education opportunity review.\u201d \u201cWhen I entered this community as superintendent, Ann alluded that this has been a topic on a list of themes that have emerged,\u201d he said. \u201cIn my opinion, it is a code red issue, and we need to look at it.\u201d Dr. Smith said he is attracted to the District Management Council because it blends both educational expertise and a business return on investment, which he thinks is \u201cvery important to the school community and broader community.\u201d \u201cI think this is very important to the school community and the broader community,\u201d said Dr. Smith. \u201cWe need to be able to develop a plan with clear metrics that we can meet and achieve and monitor very carefully.\u201d Dr. Smith said he and the board\u2019s Teaching and Learning Committee would go through the proposals by the end of the following week.