Six months into a district-wide effort to reform Special Education under a new school administration, district leaders said they plan to push forward with refining new training and procedures to keep a focus on helping students with special needs improve.

Shirley Klein, assistant superintendent of Student Services and Special Education, said a new comprehensive communication program with parents about both progress and setbacks will make it clear to parents whether students are getting help prescribed in their individualized education plans.

“We’ve begun to enforce a chain of command and begun to improve communication between schools and administrators,” Klein said.

One challenge the district has been working on under the leadership of new superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner is accountability for special education student outcomes while looking to improve practices overall.

At the beginning of 2016, the district plans to take a closer look at how it mixes special education students into general education classes, including identifying shortcomings in approach to co-teaching in classrooms that include special education and general education teachers.

“We’ve really only begun to really collect data to look at student performance, outcomes, and services for students,” Klein said. “We’ve done weekly mentoring phone conferences (with parents) at the middle school and the high school.”

In 2013 the Darien school district was found to have broken state and federal educational laws in how it decided to place special education students in classes, raising the ire of parents who believed administrators reduced costs in special education at the expense of providing children with more intensive support when needed. An audit found the district received state reimbursement for services it did not properly document.

Any given phone call to parents about a student’s academic progress can involve special education teachers, psychologists, student faculty mentors, case managers, and paraprofessionals as needed Klein said.

The new administration under Brenner has organized a practice of at least monthly meetings between psychologists, speech and language pathologists, and other personnel, in part to get them to discuss what training and professional development they think they should pursue.

“There hadn’t been a systematic way for them to meet to discuss assessments, programs, and different communities of learning,” Klein said. “. . . What do they want to look for in terms of professional development and improve their practice in their discipline?”

At every Planning and Placement Team meeting for students, a building level administrator such as a principal or assistant principal and a psychologist are present to discuss the student’s progress and development, Klein said.

Teachers and paraprofessionals are also required to sign off on individualized education programs that they understand needs and goals for the student, Klein said.

Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross said she would like additional focus on the role of each student’s mentor and how they work with students to ensure they are getting enough support.

Brenner said additional focus to teach or help mentors build a rapport with students could be possible, but he initially foresaw the role as helping keep parents in the loop.

“You’ll see varying degrees of connection between mentors and students but what we really wanted to make sure of is there are no surprises at home,” Brenner said. “There was a lack of communication before.”

“I think it is an important piece of it because the students are the ones coming home to give parents the conversation points to have with the mentors,” Hagerty-Ross said. “If it happens walking down the hallway and we can help our mentors reach out to students in the best way, you might not need as much communication with parents all the time.”