As published in the Record Journal, Thursday January 31, 2013
By Eric Vo
Under School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo, the graduation rate of students with disabilities has more than doubled since he was hired after the 2008-09 school year, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Education.
Before Menzo became superintendent, 85.4 percent of students with disabilities graduated in 2008. That number dropped significantly in 2009, when only 35.3 percent of students with disabilities graduated. Despite this, the graduation rate for students with disabilities in 2011 increased to 79.3 percent. Menzo said that because the drop occurred before he was hired, he couldn’t comment on the reason for it.
According to the Department of Education, students who are diagnosed with autism or suffer from an emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, learning disability, health impairments or speech impairments are considered students who have a disability.
The district has done a number of things over the years in an effort to improve its special education program, but Menzo said the three most important factors for the increased graduation rate was due to the special education staff, reviewing the program and services provided to students and a reconfiguration of the entire department.
Last year, the district conducted a “full audit” of the special education program, evaluating the quality of services and how the school district was doing, Menzo said. After the audit, the department was restructured with department heads at each level from preschool to high school.
“The special education review allowed us to restructure the department to provide increased programming for our students,” Menzo said.
During Menzo’s first year as superintendent, the district received stimulus money that was used to hire consultants to help and train special education teachers and staff. Now that the teachers have a “higher level of expertise,” Menzo said the number of consultants has been reduced.
In addition to the examination of the special education department, Board of Education member Michael Votto said there has been more interaction between parents, the Pupil Personnel Services Department and the Parent/Teacher Advisory Council.
“Parents are more actively involved with the PPS office and they’re both sharing the same ideas and working towards the same goals,” Votto said.
He said another factor that affected the graduation rates was due to the district making an effort to bring special education students back to town schools. In some circumstances, special education students may attend a program outside the town because it provides better services for them, Votto said. But the district has made sure to duplicate these same services so students can stay within the district.
“Parents want their kids to go to school in the town that they live in,” he said. “If we were bringing students back in town, we made sure to have the same support systems to give them.”
The support system includes important staff members, such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language workers, social workers and psychologists,Votto said. While it’s evident that the district has made big strides in improving its special education department, Menzo said there aren’t any plans to hold up.
“We plan to increase the graduation percentage with the Wallingford 100 initiative,” he said. “We’re never going to stop. We’re going to always keep pushing forward.”