Top administrators and school board members at Southern Westchester BOCES have stopped talking to me, following my stories about the agency’s bloated administrator contracts, the chief operating officer’s evasion of the district superintendent salary-cap, and the statewide BOCES practice of overcharging districts and then refunding their tax money the following year.
So it was enlightening on Wednesday to attend the SWBOCES board meeting, and to hear a BOCES teacher with the courage to tell the panel about how disorganization and short-staffing over the school year’s first seven weeks at the BOCES sites at Irvington Middle and High School, and at its Rye Lake campus, have deprived quality education of some of the region’s most vulnerable students.
Lisa Lindblom, a BOCES special education teacher, said students in the BOCES middle school program didn’t get math instruction until late September. Science instruction didn’t begin until early October. Final schedules for the BOCES students won’t be available until Oct. 23.
“As our board, we hope you join us in our concern as to how disconcerting and unfair this is to our students, many of them from your districts,” she told the board. “Our program is designed to be a therapeutic environment. Special education students need consistency and predictability to succeed. Thus far, our students have had neither.”
The board did not respond that night.
A statement issued Friday by SWBOCES press spokeswoman Evelyn McCormack said the SWBOCES administration was “sympathetic” to the needs of teachers. McCormack attributed the issues to an unexpected increase of 70 students in its special education program, a 12 percent increase over enrollments in 2011-12.
“While classes are running smoothly now, our dedicated teaching team and our students were impacted by the fact that 70 new students were enrolled in our special education programs in late August, which made advance planning nearly impossible,” McCormack wrote. “While such a boost in enrollment is good news for the organization, we are sensitive to the fact that some staff members had to be reassigned, new classroom space had to be secured, and that actual teaching and learning was disrupted by unexpected changes.”
Lindblom, however, told the board that many of the problems have yet to be remedied. She said she had, on numerous occasions, contacted Mary Ellen Betzler, the agency’s director of The Center for Special Services, to discuss problems created by the schedules.
She said many classes are out of compliance with students’ Individual Education Plans, known as IEPs, class-sizes for high school students are 50 percent over mandated limits, and SWBOCES had yet to obtain variances to allow the overcrowding.
“Space is a problem as well,” she told the board, “as there are not enough actual rooms for all the subjects that must be taught. I, and others, have physically run from room to room searching for a place to hold middle-school classes, as classes were scheduled without room assignments, and with no thought as to the number of actual rooms available.”
She said Betzler had little interest in hearing from teachers. Betzler did not return a phone message left at her office.
“I tried to let Ms. Betzler know that I felt it was important that teachers be a part of the planning process, as we had information that was vital to making schedules that would help our students succeed,” she said. “To date, my efforts have been rebuffed.”
McCormack, though, said the district wanted to collaborate with teachers.
“We will continue to work closely with our affected teachers and programs to ensure that the 2012-13 school year is stress-free and successful as possible for our students,” she wrote.
Those assurances have yet to reach the Rye Lake campus classroom run by Lulinda Lloyd, a 25-year BOCES special education veteran who carved out a niche as a specialist in teaching literacy to low-performing special education students, using the SRA corrective reading model.
Since late September, she has been assigned to teach high-school Regents English in the BOCES Therapeutic Support Program, which charges districts $72,738 per student. She said she has never taught high school English, and told me Wednesday night she was not confident she was teaching much to her students.
She teaches her classes of up to six students in a conference room in Rye Lake. She said she has been given no curriculum or materials to help her teach her students.
“I feel like a lousy teacher, a failure,” she said. “They tell me, ‘You’ll be fine,’ but it’s not my field. Teaching an essay freaks me out.”
She said some of the students could barely write a proper sentence. And the 2013 English Regents, which is required for graduation, looms for her 11th-graders.
“They are good kids,” she said. “And they deserve someone who can help them pass the Regents.”
Top photo: Southern Westchester BOCES special education teacher Lisa Lindblom on Oct. 17 tells the BOCES school board about problems with scheduling at the BOCES site in Irvington. Photo/David McKay Wilson
Middle photo: Sandra Simpson, left, chief operating officer at SWBOCES, and Georgia Riedel, who chairs the SWBOCES board, listen to teacher complaints about disorganization and short-staffing at BOCES’ Irvington Middle-High School site. Photo/David McKay Wilson