School district moves forward with 'comprehensive' special services review


The Board of Education unanimously approved having consultant group District Management Council (DMC) perform a review of the district’s special education services during its Feb. 5 meeting.
Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Ann Paul told the board during its Dec. 4 meeting that she and other administrators were searching for a consultant group to conduct a review after learning that Wilton students with disabilities “continue to under-perform as related to students without disabilities.”
After reviewing proposals from three consultant groups, the board’s Teaching and Learning Subcommittee selected DMC to conduct its review, known as “A Special Education and Struggling Students Opportunities Review.”
Board and subcommittee member Lory Rothstein said DMC “stood head and shoulders above the other two,” particularly when it came to accountability and the way in which staff and other stakeholders are included in the process.
Superintendent Kevin Smith agreed, saying the other two proposals were “less involved” and DMC’s proposal was “by far, the most comprehensive.”
“We really need to do a deep study on our special education services and really come to an understanding of the ways we’re serving kids well and the areas we need to improve,” he said. “The DMC proposal really captured that very, very well.”

Approach


DMC’s approach “extends out into general education and all of our students who are struggling in academic areas,” Ms. Paul told the board in December.
“Their goal, as they shared it, is not to produce a report,” she said, “but to produce real improvements for students and bring about meaningful, measurable and sustainable change.”
With the goal of improving student achievement, increasing parent satisfaction and effectively using the district’s resources, DMC conducts its study in three phases — gaining an understanding, researching and drawing comparisons.

Phases


According to DMC, the first phase is to “gain a deep understanding of the current status of special education and other intervention supports in the district,” as well as how special education and other intervention and remediation staff allocate their time.
The second phase   involves researching and analyzing the systems used within a school district.
According to DMC’s approach and methodology description, the first two phases involve balancing “data-driven analysis with extensive in-person interviews” with stakeholders, which Ms. Paul said is important “because we always want to include our parent community in these discussions.”
The final phase is the comparative phase, in which the district’s practices are compared and evaluated using a number of sources including a database of key staffing and program information, which includes information from nearly 1,400 districts from 48 states and represents approximately 15 million students.
Upon completion of the three phases, an “extensive planning process” begins, which includes a full-day   retreat that “allows the leadership team to craft detailed action plans that are tightly tailored to the culture of the district” and a “jointly developed action plan.”
Following the planning retreat, DMC provides a final report, which includes:

  • Recommendations of best practices;

  • A short list of the highest impact changes to raise student achievement and improve the budget for the district;

  • Extensive data about the district’s current approach, services and staffing.


Dr. Smith said he found one aspect of DMC’s proposal particularly interesting.
“Their proposal included a statement that the recommendations yielded from the study, they believe — if implemented — will raise student achievement and also provide the district an annual savings of two times the cost of the study,” he said. “I thought that was important.”
Dr. Smith said the plan is to conduct the study through the second part of this year and “be in a position in late spring to make some staffing decisions in the summer and start to lay the ground work for the fall.”

Funding


Depending on the level of services provided, the DMC review would cost the district between $125,000 and $200,000 and include all expenses, such as travel time, the technology license, hotel, postage, printing, and supplies.
“Since 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,” said Financial Director Ken Post.
“For 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.”