Falling into the GAP Some parents of special needs students say the district is not doing enough for their children

By Lori Weiss Staff Writer

Source: NOW
Date: Thursday, November 8, 2007
Edition: NOW Early, Section: A News, Page 14

When Kim Nerone’s son’s grades began dropping, she didn’t know where to turn.

"No one wanted to help," she said.

So like many other parents of special education students in the Wauwatosa School District, she hired an advocate and had her son placed at Kradwell School, 1220 Dewey Ave., for his core classes during part of the school day.

Kradwell is a private kindergarten through 12th-grade school that specializes in students who are unsuccessful in the traditional school environment.

Her son had a 1.3 grade point average when he arrived at Kradwell a little more than two years ago, and now his GPA has risen to a 3.2.

"It was a beautiful setup for us, but it was especially hard, more than it should have been," she said.

Parents raise concerns

Nerone’s situation isn’t unique. In recent months a group of special education parents have stepped forward to raise concerns about their children’s struggles with the district’s current curriculum.

As a result of their children struggling, they have spent thousands of dollars on tutoring and countless hours working with and reteaching their children nearly every night of the week.

"I always feel my girl is running in too big of shoes," parent Barb Rabell said. "Not only are these kids working harder, they are always behind. It saddens me that I am paying for things that should be there naturally.

"We believe our kids can do just as well as the other kids, but they just need a little more help in a certain area."

Bill Anderson, supervisor of Student Learning, said the district is currently looking at the gap between children with and without disabilities, which he said needs to improve.

"Their concerns are very valid concerns," he said. "We are looking at it."

Parent Mary Newton said there are children at four different levels who are being taught at one level.

"Some kids get enough to put everything together," she said. "You see that kids who aren’t able to do that rapidly start to fail. Kids in special education have nowhere else to look."

Balancing student needs

With about 10 percent of the district’s students having special needs, Anderson said it’s difficult to balance the needs of each child.

"Our ultimate goal is to meet all of their needs in every facet we can," he said. "You keep working toward that goal."

Therese Kwiatkowski, interim director of student services, agrees.

"The ultimate goal is to close the gap, but in reality the critical piece is monitoring growth and progress," she said. "I think some things we do very well. Many are successful in the general education environment."

Amy Fox has three children in special education in Wauwatosa and said she has been very satisfied with the district.

"Everyone was always very supportive, encouraging," she said.

Fox said she often works with her children after school, but said it’s her job.

"We are our child’s first teacher," she said. "We are right on task."

Direct instruction used

But for those who aren’t succeeding, parents look to places like Kradwell that use different programs, like direct instruction, for help.

Direct instruction is a scientifically research-based program that allows teachers to target where each child’s deficit is in a consistent manner.

The district currently uses direct instruction in pockets.

Kwiatkowski said the district is looking at different programs, like direct instruction, in the long-range planning process. During the process they will determine which schools use which programs, and which schools need which programs.

"Something we need to be better at is coming up with more options, interventions," Kwiatkowski said.

Superintendent Phil Ertl said the district needs to be open to trying new things.

"We need more tools in our toolbox. It’s a way needs can be met," he said. "Our concern is we don’t have consistent methods to meet the needs of our students."

The district also began using Measures of Academic Progress Assessments, which will give the district additional information on each of the students’ needs.

"There is more to the district than WKCE scores," Kwiatkowski said. "We need to get better overall."

And in order to get better, Anderson said it needs to be a joint effort. "There is only one way to cure this thing — how can we work together to meet your needs," he said.

While the district is currently working on a solution to meeting all of their students’ needs, some parents say they don’t have time to wait.

"In the meantime we have to triage our kids," Newton said. "You have to do something for the kids who are here now."

Lori Weiss can be reached at lweiss@cninow.com or (262) 446-6645.

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