Falmouth schools responding to special-ed needs

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FALMOUTH — Special education was a key focus at Monday night’s School Board meeting.

The board, in its first meeting of the new academic year, also spent time talking about upcoming proficiency-based graduation requirements.

Director of Special Education Gene Kucinkas said the hiring of four new educational technicians, who were all replacements at the third level, is part of a trend: while it is typical to lose a third of educational technicians in a year, this year the School Department lost nearly half, he said. 

“We expect that turnover, as we hire highly skilled ed techs and each year many move to teaching, other professional positions or grad school,” Kucinkas said.

Level three requires a person have 90 credits of approved study.

Kucinkas also said that by Oct. 8 there will be 25 certified Safety Care staff members, up from the current 16. Safety Care is a program that allows teachers to help students work through challenging situations using de-escalation strategies, according to Kucinkas.

“Some of the Safety Care certified staff were hires made this year, replacing departing staff,” he said. “Other staff trained were existing hires. We offer this certification to most all our special education staff as the training gives our staff a common terminology when speaking to students.”

Kucinkas said each district certifies the number of staff needed for the students they support, and 25 was the number Falmouth needed.

He said Falmouth is also working with neighboring towns and special education directors to help students who “need more community experience.”

He said this program will allow those individuals to get out into the greater Portland Area and “be with peers in the community,” and will not be at the expense of the School Department.

Proficiency requirement

Under a state law that goes into effect in the 2017-2018 school year, there will be less of a focus on letter grades and more of a focus on more on proficiency, such as preparing students to graduate and be college ready.  

Falmouth High School Principal Gregg Palmer said a lot of work has gone toward “retrofit(ting) a successful system.”

He said if people didn’t like the old system, they will like new one. He also said if people did like the old system, they will like the new one more.

The board also unanimously approved six new coaches, and approved nearly 80 co-curricular assignments, ranging from advisers to the Ping-Pong Club.

In other business, the board:

• Recognized students Alexandra Ertman and Ben Stimson for their placement in the All National Honor Ensembles festival, which will be held in Nashville this year. And several high school seniors were recognized for their senior capstone project, which placed words of encouragement on the more 700 lockers at the school.

• Heard a request from Ron Lydick, of 32 Field Road, for a committee to explore the Pay to Participate program, which charges students and families different costs for different sports or activities. He asked for the proposed committee to “evaluate the program and to evaluate its future,” because it was “established when there were significant financial pressures.” He asked to be a part of the committee, if the board decides to create one.

• Was told recently installed Apple TVs are not working in the high school or the elementary school. Drew Logan, network administrator for the IT department, said the devises are working in the middle school, but not in the other two schools. He said teachers can use older equipment and hook-ups while the problem is being investigated.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.