Growth in special education continues upward trend
Director of student support services Daniel Seklecki estimates about 475 students, or roughly 20 percent of the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools' population, receive some level of special education (SPED) services, from very moderate to more involved. The majority of SPED students are in the specific learning disability category.
"Our services are mandated," Mr. Seklecki said in a phone call Monday. "It really is the school system's responsibility to create or purchase those services."
When it comes to special education, increased costs to provide services mandated by federal and state laws have a significant impact on school budgets. How the services are provided is up to individual school districts. On Martha's Vineyard, where many special education students are limited to support available within the confines of the Island, the challenge is to provide programs and services locally, and also cost-effectively.
Mr. Seklecki and SPED staff members keep a close watch on the student population, the types of educational challenges they have, and the numbers of students programs must address.
"I wouldn't say we've peaked with kids with autism spectrum concerns, because there are other young kids coming from the preschool, probably Project Headway, to the Bridge Program, but the impact will be nowhere near as substantial as it was over the last two years," Mr. Seklecki said. "But in fact, if you think that five years ago we really didn't even have the need for the model or the service or the resource, to the present day, where we're forecasting the need for two teachers and an array of at least six teaching assistants to meet needs of a dozen or so students, that's a pretty significant change in a short window of time."
With the changing landscape in SPED needs comes a changing dollar landscape, Mr. Seklecki said. Several years ago there was one Project Headway class, typically with 10 to 15 students in one classroom.
"And now we have multiple classrooms and we go through multiple grades, with the complexity and the differences of the individual student profiles," Mr. Seklecki said. "So we're serving a wider array of kids' strengths and disabilities in an expanding number of grade levels, and it is a challenge to provide those services in the summer. You need an experienced and diverse teaching staff, also, to meet those kids' needs in the summer program."
Mr. Seklecki said he does not see the trend ending or a return to a time when fewer students will require SPED services.
"If anything, we're serving more students at a younger age, with more complex profiles. There's no doubt in my mind about that," Mr. Seklecki said. "You see that challenge in the preschools, you see that at Project Headway, and in families and in private daycare, also. And those kids will reach the elementary schools in not such a long time."
Providing services to children with needs less frequently seen, for example, visual and hearing impairments, often involves networking with off-Island specialists, Mr. Seklecki said, who may provide staff training and professional development for SPED staff on Martha's Vineyard.
"And so we certainly don't want to be the biggest and most expensive, but we absolutely want to create services that respond to the student needs that we have in an educationally sound and cost-effective mechanism," he concluded.