Harman elected Board of Education chair
Updated 3:20 pm, Wednesday, November 18, 2015
As he takes over as newly elected chairman of the Darien Board of Education, Republican Michael A. Harman said he is happy there will be continuity on the board as he leads an effort to work with a new administration to improve special education and other services.
Harman was unanimously elected chairman of the nine-member Board of Education at a regular meeting last week. His predecessor, Elizabeth Hagerty Ross, will move into the vice chair position.
Harman said he expects Ross’ continued presence after four years as chairman will help the board transition from a period of crisis over Special Education programs to setting a new course to improve the district.
“I’m very happy that . . . Betsy stayed on as vice chair in her term to help with the transition and provide the institutional knowledge because we do have an almost whole new administration,” Harman said.
Harman, who was first elected to the BOE in 2011, said in December the board will hear notable updates, including an annual report from administrators on the accomplishments and quality of special education programs as well as a review of an ongoing study of school space needs by a consultant, Milone and MacBroom.
Space is tight at town schools and while there are no firm forecasts for major jumps in student population, anticipated developments in town could lead to a need for more classroom space, he said.
“Many of the facilities in the district are nearing capacity and any future enrollment increase, whether organic or additional developments, could have a significant impact on the district,” Harman said. “… At the present, the administration has not forecast any major impact in the immediate term, but the final results from the Milone and McBroom study have not been presented yet and could alter that point of view.”
On the current efforts to restructure the district’s special education programs overseen by Darien Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner, Harman said he is confident in the moves made by the district since Brenner arrived in July.
The district is trying to rebound from a controversy over findings it violated federal and state and education laws by changing individualized education plans for special education students without parental input and did not adequately track what services were being provided to special education students.
Among other initiatives, Brenner is revamping the district’s use of SRBI (scientific research-based interventions) to more diligently track when students start to fall behind academically and provide the appropriate level of help to get them on track.
“This same board was responsible for the hiring decision to bring Dr. Brenner to our district and I am confident that our new superintendent will succeed in moving the district as a whole forward,” Harman said.
Harman said he expects the board to make a significant effort to identify ways to cut expenses, noting recent initiatives to manage the cost of benefits for school district employees.
However, the board also faces the reality of potential expenses due to enrollment shifts, capital project needs and the drive to improve special education programs, he added.
“The goal here is to look at ways to develop robust programs and capabilities and then manage these programs in the most efficient manner while meeting the responsibility to provide students with appropriate services,” Harman said of the town’s special education needs.