By Pierre Comtois

Correspondent

GROTON -- School Committee members were briefed last week on a report submitted by Walker Partnerships, hired by the administration to audit the district's special education efforts.

Of its findings, managing director James Early said that a major problem with the district's program is that "once students are determined to be eligible for specialized instruction, there does not appear to be an exiting process from the services as students matriculate through the levels."

Other findings included too much reliance on "para-professionals" indicating lack of criteria for their use; too many para-professionals on the payroll compared to the student population; too little education among staff on the proper use of para-professionals; a lack of a clear understanding of their role by para-professionals themselves; an increase in the number of kindergarten to grade 2 students being referred to the special education program based on behavioral or social skills; and a perception that when a SPED student transitions to the middle school, services need to be increased.

To address these weaknesses, Early recommended that the district take a more comprehensive approach to professional development; design a training program to familiarize staff with SPED practices and procedures; review current co-teaching practices and develop clear and consistent guidelines for its use; establish criteria by which para-professionals are assigned to students; and use more in-depth data collection to track the progress of SPED students.

The administration is expected to take Early's recommendations into account to help streamline the district's approach to special education in the future.

According to Early, 13 percent of the district's student population is included in its special education program, slightly less than the average.

New employees

Finally, committee members were introduced to new employees starting with Jared Stanton who will take over the job of director of business and finance from Jerry Martin who will retire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Formerly the comptroller at Whittier Tech, Stanton will be aided by Martin in a week-long transition before starting work on July 1.

"We have every sense that a smooth transition will take place," said a confident interim superintendent Anthony Bent.

Next, the School Committee was introduced to Andrew Marcinek, who was hired as the district's new director of technology.

Marcinek, who has already become involved with decisions involved with information technology in the district, said that his goal was to make technology in the schools so common and accepted that it becomes "ubiquitous," "invisible" and even "like oxygen."

Marcinek, too, is scheduled to be on the job by July 1.