|Preschool Issue Spills Over Into Mount Greylock School Committee|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
02:27AM / Friday, May 27, 2016
|Mount Greylock Director of Pupil Personnel Services Kim Grady addresses the School Committee on Tuesday.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The politics of preschool officially graduated to high school on Tuesday night.
The Side-by-Side special education program at Williamstown Elementary School became a topic for discussion at the monthly meeting of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee.
The opening came when the Williamstown-Lanesborough Tri-District's director of pupil personnel services gave the committee a periodic update on the special education program at Mount Greylock.
Kim Grady told the committee about the 86 Mount Greylock students who receive special education services, defined special education and explained how the school district works with outside agencies like BFAIR, Hillcrest and the commonwealth's Department of Children and Families to ensure that students' needs are being met.
It did not take long for the elephant in the room to make an appearance.
School Committee members Richard Cohen and Steven Miller each have been outspoken about the Williamstown School Committee's decision to cut a full-day section from the Side-by-Side pre-kindergarten program.
Miller has argued
that the tuition from "typically developing" children generated by a full-day program could make it self-sustaining and recently wrote publicly that "how this has been handled makes supporting WES now difficult as this has not been a transparent process."
Cohen also has taken to the comments section of iBerkshires.com to weigh in on the controversy. He recently took the WES Committee and administration to task for not doing a good job explaining the reason for the change to the Side-by-Side schedule.
"The administration and the school committee has an obligation to explain and support their decisions," Cohen wrote in a 400-word comment
on a story about the most recent committee meeting.
On Tuesday, Mount Greylock School Committee member Wendy Penner opened the door to a discussion about Side-by-Side by saying she "observed the turmoil" surrounding the program and felt the community's "emotional attachment" to the program was not given sufficient weight in the administration's calculus.
"It's important to anticipate how hard change can be for some people," Penner said. "It's unfortunate, but it's also good because it requires the community to be brought along with changes that may need to happen.
"I can see how, for me, it was hard to understand and accept some of the explanations that were provided. Why is it necessary to end a service if it's fiscally viable? That's what it came down to."
Grady replied that her purpose in addressing the Mount Greylock committee on Tuesday was to clear up any misconceptions in the community that were leading to unfounded criticism about special education services at the Tri-District's three schools.
"Special education is a process," Grady said. "We are in full compliance. … Programs grow and expand because of student populations and student needs.
"If we weren't in compliance with the state, we wouldn't have reports of no findings [from the district's coordinated program review]."
Cohen, who lives in Lanesborough, asked Grady to "listen with an open mind" to his suggestions about the Williamstown special education program.
"A program like a preschool program in both towns is an inclusive program that involves not just special education students but also benefits non-[individualized education plan] students and the community at large.
"I think it's unfortunate when this becomes an ad hominem thing where people who are making a comment … are condemned as making attacks."
Cohen said his comments were about the Williamstown School Committee's process and not meant to be attacks on performance of the special education program.
Miller opened by thanking Grady for sharing the numbers about the Mount Greylock program.
"Based on the strong questions that have been asked … I think it would be wonderful to have this same conversation at WES," Miller added.
That drew a quick retort from Grady.
"I come to the school committees twice a year and give this same update," Grady said. "It's not my fault that people aren't in attendance.
"To say that I should do this is insulting. I do do this."
Miller repeated his request for additional dialogue at the elementary school.
"Given the number of people who are concerned and willing to step up financially, I'm encouraging you and the Williamstown Elementary School Committee to have this discussion," Miller said.
Several people used Tuesday's meeting as an opportunity to defend Grady and/or the decision on Side-by-Side.
Mount Greylock School Committee member Chris Dodig, also of Lanesborough was the first to touch on the rancor that came out of the WES budget talks.
"One thing I'm disappointed about is the level of animosity that has come out of it all," Dodig said. "It seems to me way out of proportion. My only suggestion would be to continue to do the right thing, and it will pass."
Tri-District Superintendent Douglas Dias told the Mount Greylock committee that Grady, who has been director since 2010, is doing the right thing and has the evidence to prove it.
Dias told the committee about the arduous review process that special education programs face across the commonwealth and assured committee members that the Tri-District programs are passing with flying colors.
"I have never seen in my career a coordinated program review be that pristine," Dias said. "I called Kim and said, 'I think we're missing some pages,' " referring to the usual pages specifying corrective actions.
"She said, 'No. that's the report. It's clean.' As far as I can see, that's the case in all three districts."
WES and Mount Greylock parent Donna Narey spoke about Grady and the process at the elementary school from the floor of the meeting.
"I'm president of the WES Parents Advisory Committee and the parent of a child with special needs, as are many people in this room," Narey said. "If there was some kind of issue in special education that we were concerned about with Kim, don't you think you would have heard about it?
"We have looked at the numbers as a PAC. We look at the budget. We give our input. We understand the numbers fluctuate. We also understand our children have the right to get special education services.
"So if we don't have as many [special ed] children in a particular grade, we may not need those services."