The Montclair school district’s pupil services department presented an update on its goals Monday, in an effort to show how it is “walking the talk” to support students and staff across the district.

Three of the district’s four supervisors of special education talked to the Board of Education on Monday, Oct. 17, about the department’s five goals and future projects. The presentation also included what is being done to reach the goals, David Goldblatt, interim director of pupil services, said at the meeting.

“I like to say we are walking the talk,” Goldblatt said.

The Pupil Services Department includes not only the supervisors of special education, but also District Nursing Supervisor Tina La Gala and Maggie Shaver-Dock, the district mental health and anti-bullying coordinator, so the presentation included their goals as well, supervisor Carla Perez said at the meeting.

In August, Goldblatt and Perez presented the department’s five main goals: establishing consistent processes and oversight throughout the district, establishing continuity of identification, interventions and literacy programs to address dyslexia and reading disabilities, developing a process for efficient scheduling of special education staff, providing clear and ongoing methods of communication with parents and staff, and developing and providing targeted training for staff. 

At the Oct. 17 meeting, Perez and supervisors Shivoyne Trim and Tameka Stafford provided updates on the goals, beginning with how the department has tackled the first goal — establishing consistent processes, protocols, systems, practices and oversight throughout the district.

Montclair school district staff participate in professional development sessions held by the district’s pupil services department. (COURTESY MONTCLAIR SCHOOLS)
Montclair school district staff participate in professional development sessions held by the district’s pupil services department. (COURTESY MONTCLAIR SCHOOLS)

In the summer, the supervisors met with child study teams and related service providers across the district and created a shared Google Drive, with all the documents and resources necessary for the school year, Perez said. The supervisors meet biweekly with the child study teams to collect information and make sure all procedures and protocols are being followed, she said.

“There's a system where the child study team members are filling out a Google form, which then generates a feedback form directly to the principal, to the supervisor and to the classroom teacher about the classroom observation of the student, so that there's an ongoing dialogue,” Perez said.

Under the same goal, Shaver-Dock has been reviewing and revising the incident and harassment, intimidation and bullying reporting forms and visiting schools to meet with administrators and staff to assess needs, Perez said. 

To address the second goal — establishing continuity of identification, tiered interventions and consistent literacy programs to address dyslexia and reading disabilities — the district has continued to provide Orton-Gillingham training for staff members, through the Fairleigh Dickinson University Orton-Gillingham training course and the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education training. 

Altogether, the district has 27 curriculum support teachers across the elementary and middle schools that have training in those programs, Perez said.

The district uses progress monitoring every six to eight weeks to check on the growth of students, to see if they need more or less assistance than they are currently receiving, she said.

“We're able to see that kind of ebb and flow and the growth and decline of students over time because we're targeting different skills over time, so they might be strong in one area and then need more work in the future on other areas,” she said.

Board Vice President Priscilla Church applauded the efforts of the department to increase the number of staff who are trained to assist students with dyslexia and reading disabilities.  

“This is a wonderful, wonderful program,” Church said. “Bravo to everybody that works in it and to the district for supporting it and continuing the growth of the teachers that it'll just get bigger and bigger as we go along.”

In May, the district began its work on goal three — developing processes for efficient scheduling in the utilization of special education staff — by reassigning child study team members to ensure more equitable caseloads and to meet building level needs, Trim said. Several students who left the district during the COVID-19 pandemic have since returned, so the district saw an uptick in caseloads for staff members this past summer, she said. 

Then, this month, the district had to again shift caseloads around in response to the ongoing national staffing shortage, she said.

“While we were able to identify and recommend for hire, and even hire team members and related service providers, sadly we received a number of recensions, retirements and resignations,” Trim said. “As a result of a Department of Education backlog with fingerprinting, etc., things became very difficult.”

To “stop the bleed,” the district has reassigned district case managers to other schools to help until additional staff members are in place, she said. 

Regarding goal four — providing clear and ongoing methods of communication with parents and staff — the district has been doing really well, Trim said. Before the school year began, the department shared a calendar for the entire year containing all staff professional development dates, curriculum meetings and more with child study team members and related service providers. The department also puts out a quarterly newsletter with updates.

The department also made a presentation to the Special Education Parent Advisory Council’s Academy in September and has two additional presentations planned throughout the school year, Trim said. 

Montclair school district staff participate in professional development sessions held by the district’s pupil services department. (COURTESY MONTCLAIR SCHOOLS)
Montclair school district staff participate in professional development sessions held by the district’s pupil services department. (COURTESY MONTCLAIR SCHOOLS)

In approaching the fifth goal — to develop and provide targeted training for teachers, child study teams and related service providers — the department first started with providing training to paraprofessionals in the district, Stafford said.

“With our paraprofessionals, it is very important that they know that they're worthy, deserving, and they're also more than enough,” she said. “So in doing this and providing the professional development, it's not just about providing professional development to ensure that our scholars have what they need, but it's also to make sure that our paraprofessionals have what they need.”

The department has held several different professional development sessions since the school year began, from first aid training to integrating culturally responsive teaching and social emotional learning in the classroom to addressing behaviors in the classroom.

But one of the sessions — focused on mindfulness — has been essential to the department’s work to support staff, Stafford said. 

“When we talk about the pandemic and what happened, what we don't often discuss is what each family went through,” she said. “While still dealing with personal grief, our staff members had to come back and still make sure they're taking care of our babies. So we want to make sure they're well so they're able to take care of our youth.”

Future projects for the pupil services department include a Stop the Bleed training by La Gala, part of a national campaign to encourage bystanders to be trained, equipped and empowered to help in a bleeding emergency before professional help arrives, frontline individualized education plan training for child study teams and related service providers, increasing community partnerships and continuing working toward consistency and continuity of programs across the the district.