Superintendent sets district goals for 2015-16
Published 11:10 am, Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Brenner, who came to Darien from the Roslyn School District on Long Island, said re-inventing the town’s special education programs will include initiatives to keep parents involved through conference in their children’s individual education plans and improving interventions to bring students who fall behind back on track.
“It doesn’t just happen overnight. But it is going to happen fast. But a continuum of services doesn’t start and end with the snap of a finger,” Brenner said during a discussion with the board about his agenda. “But I can tell you there is a real commitment here to get things right.”
The district is looking to Brenner to reset the course for the town’s special education plan after more than two years of financial and administrative scandal that has left parents of special education students distrustful. After a group of parents filed a complaint with the state Department of Education in 2013, an internal investigation found administrators and teachers systemically broke education laws by illegally altering and paring back individualized education plans for special education students without consultation with parents.
“Rebuilding the special education program will begin with rebuilding the trust that has to be brought back to the town and that will come with personal relationships and guarantees we are going to do the right thing,” Brenner said.
Brenner also stressed his broader set of goals, which included increased professional development in literacy, math, technology and special education.
On the K-8 level, Brenner said he wanted to fully implement the Columbia Teacher’s College Reading and Writing workshop for K-8, and review math programs at the high school to possibly revamp how classes are tiered.
A recent district review found students with learning disabilities made up a disproportionate part of the school’s 200 level classes at the high school, including math, and enrollment in the classes, “may result in isolation of students with disabilities with their typically developing peers.”
Classes at the high school are tiered in 200-, 300- and 400-level.
“We know this has been a topic of conversation about the high school the 200-, 300-, and 400-level classes,” Brenner said. “This is something we plan to fully explore, address, and potentially alter as the year goes on but it is something that would not happen midstream.”
Brenner said he was grateful the board allowed him to begin his tenure in Darien with his own team of administrators, including Assistant Superintendent of K-12 Dr. Susie Da Silva and new assistant superintendent for special education Dr. Shirley Klein.
“It is a rare time someone from a school district gets to surround himself with his own team,” Brenner said.
During the discussion about special education programs, Brenner expressed concern about controlling the amount of time teachers would need to devote to record keeping that could detract from classroom instruction.
The record keeping is imperative when keeping track of instructional costs that are higher than the district average, Brenner said, adding that he and his administrators will be proactive in responding to parental concerns about services provided.
“If (parents) are not getting satisfaction they should come right to me and there will be a full investigation if there is a question of services not being delivered, and consequences if they aren’t,” Brenner said. “ But I get worried about creating paper systems that take a lot of time for teachers doing the right thing who spend a lot of time filling out paperwork when they should be working with kids.”
Asked by board member Callie Sullivan about what kind of process he would use to hire faculty, Brenner said candidates for open teacher and administrative positions would be subject to a review by a committee including two parents, two administrators, two teachers and a paraprofessional.
Brenner said he foresees a process where parents would be able to identify candidates they would like to be eliminated from the running.
“It is a comprehensive plan that takes a lot of time, energy, and manpower but I’ve used it in two other places and you get really high-quality folks,” Brenner said.