School committee

Wiscasset’s special education needs rise

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 8:45am

    Some Wiscasset students’ high needs for special education may call for the school department to add staff, Special Education Director Ken Spinney said. He told school committee members June 14 in Wiscasset Middle High School’s library and carried on Zoom, they might wonder why he did not speak up in budget season.

    “(This has) been creeping over the last few months ... I said one week, ‘Wow, I’m just blown away, in one week, how things can change.’” He expects Wiscasset Elementary School to need a fourth special education teacher. “We need to build (the program) up in order to maintain safe and appropriate programming.”

    WES Principal Kathleen Pastore concurred. Students are joining WES with an “increase of unique and challenging needs ... for whatever the reason, but students seem to be coming (with those),” she said. The pandemic may have had something to do with it, she said.

    Spinney suggested starting a program for autism. “I’m a firm believer that (with) children between the ages of 3 and 7 (who have) autism, if you can reach them ... early, it pays dividends for life.”

    And at WMHS, Spinney said Sheepscot Regional Educational Program, for students with high behavioral or social-emotional challenges, needs staffing to restart. There are about two applicants for a teacher, he said. “I want to see that program happen.” In the meeting and in his written update to the committee, he also floated the idea of Wiscasset forming its own program. “We continue to see an increase in students with severe behaviors and without this type of program, we will likely see an increase in additional adult supports or out of district placements,” he wrote. But as with the regional program, a Wiscasset program would also take highly experienced staff, he added.

    Amid staffing absences, leaves and shortages, Spinney is speaking with a company that may help with students’ therapy. And he is seeing if University of New England can provide occupational therapy interns to, with supervision, help also.

    Taking committee questions, Spinney said the portion of students identified for special education is nearing 30% again, but that is not the issue: “It’s the intensity of the needs. I can’t emphasize that enough. If it’s just (needing) a little reading help, a little math help, that’s one thing. But if it’s bigger than that, it takes a lot more resources.”

    In other staffing issues discussed June 14, WMHS Principal Charles Lomonte said its opening for a health teacher is one of 10 around Maine now. Maine Department of Education is trying to help by contacting University of Maine and a health teachers organization, Lomonte said. WMHS also has social worker and educational technician openings, he said.

    As for the possible new special education staff, Chair Michael Dunn told Wiscasset Newspaper in email responses later, the school department has a reserve account to help with unexpected special education needs.

    The meeting was Dunn’s last on the committee. After eight years on it, he did not seek re-election. He received a “Property of Wiscasset School Department” shirt. And Superintendent of Schools Terry Wood, set to leave at the end of June, received an engraved cutting board.

    The committee noted its pick of Robert England Jr. for interim superintendent, as announced last month; other hires are Cynthia Belk, alternative education teacher; Alyson Graham, high school social studies teacher; Sunny Lee, guidance secretary; Katie Smith, kindergarten teacher; Brian Trelegan, educational technician III; and Christian Wilkens, high school science teacher. The committee accepted with regret the resignations of alternative education teacher Jessica Anderson, WES Assistant Principal Laura Mewa and educational technician O’Neil LaPlante.