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10/15/2016

Efficient use of resources goal of new school special-services director

In-house behavior services and training for regular-education teachers and for special-education technicians are among the goals for Jessica Clark, Cape Elizabeth's new director of special services.

Clark gave members of the School Board an overview of her first weeks in Cape Elizabeth and her thoughts for the future at the board's meeting Oct. 11, 2016. Clark replaces Steve Floyd, who served as interim director last year after the retirement of Jane Golding.

Clark comes to Cape Elizabeth from the New England Center for Children, where she was a consulting specialist and coordinator for teacher training and professional development. A board-certified behavior analyst herself, Clark said she believes the $30,000 the School Department spent last year for behavior consultation one day a week could be better spent on in-house services five days a week.

"I've been looking at what were getting for the money we are spending," Clark said. "I kind of know what to expect out of behavior consults, and it's hard to manage consultants versus having an internal person where we could access those resources a lot better," she said.

One of the indicators of success of the School Department's mission and vision is closing the academic gap for underperforming students, some of whom receive special-ed services.

To that end, two curriculum tools - "Reading Plus" and the "Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia" - have been introduced this year with positive results, Clark said. In the central office, an assistant was hired to take over special-ed clerical and scheduling responsibilities, freeing educators to concentrate on teaching.

Clark said she will continue to monitor staff schedules to be sure resources are being used efficiently. For example, "we have speech-and-language pathologists that are trained in social skills; well, if we have time we can be using them in the classroom to teach teachers how to teach social skills or executive funcitoning skills so we're not always relying on a referral to special ed."

"I want these things to happen in the classroom, and then we're there to support it," Clark said.

Clark said she will be overseeing training this year of ed techs, especially those working one-on-one with students, "making sure that their training that they're given is relevant to what they're doing."

"A lot of the staff that we have as ed techs are close to certification or certified teachers, so they're really interested in their own professional development, and I think if we invest in that population our students are just going to continue to grow," Clark said.

She concluded her report by saying she has also met regularly with a group of parents of children with special needs, arranging presenters from organizations that will support their students after they graduate.