The Miracle of Education


My son’s class had sufficient staff to ensure his safety, but probably not enough to ensure compliance with his IEP. At least not yet. After an extended conversation with Mrs. Costello, Challenger’s principal, I believe that within the week she will have had time to work out the staffing details to meet the requirements of my son’s IEP.

My boy is on the Autism Spectrum. He benefits, greatly, from being around children who are not on the spectrum (as they do from him, too), so we have written into his IEP the requirement that he spend an increasing amount of time in a regular Kindergarten class. Right now I do not believe there is sufficient staff to allow him to do this without stripping staff from the resource room to dangerous levels.

My son’s room is packed. Literally packed. It would be difficult to imagine that the room could physically hold even one more child. A resource room requires space to move around; kids on the spectrum just move. A lot. They need space to spin, to bounce, to stretch, and to stem. And they need people who can help them do this as they learn.

Only a truly gifted teacher with ample support is capable of reaching through the fog of autism to teach our kids. Mrs. Niki Bowling is such a teacher. But she needs others who can sit with, hold, guide, redirect, and make eye-contact with the kids to help her. She cannot be in ten places at once, and yet she must.

With the IEPs, Niki Bowling is teaching ten classes of one rather than one class of ten.

Mrs. Costello has assured me that she will be managing the placement of the aides across the various classrooms at Challenger, and she will make sure that Mrs. Niki has the support she needs. As the boy likely wouldn’t be going to Mrs. McCord’s classroom this week anyway, asking for a week to review and adjust the aide assignments is not unreasonable. After all, a mere three days ago, half the employees in my son’s room did not know they had a job.

Developing an educational plan for a group where every individual requires radically different approaches takes a lot of time and work. Imagine trying to paint a house with a hundred toddlers and finger paint. It’s possible. Maybe. It will certainly be colorful and beautiful, but it will take a lot of planning to reach the ultimate goal

This level of planning is why it is crucial that the superintendent and the board make hiring decisions significantly earlier in the summer. As amazing as our principals and teachers are, they cannot plan for and manage staffing that the administration has not provided them. If we expect excellence from our teachers, we must provide them with the resources they need to perform at world-class levels.

Staffing questions must be resolved early, after all it takes a teacher to turn a room into a classroom. (Yeah, I know. It’s simplistic on purpose.)

The board’s decision to fire 154 teachers, 99 instructional assistants, and to cancel the ONIN contract costing $2,170,660 for instructional assistants which provided somewhere around 200 instructional assistants to the system caused the staffing shortages we’re facing right now. The special education student population has dropped by about 5% from last year. Assuming that Dr. Wardynski’s numbers from Thursday are still correct, we current have less than 50% of the instructional assistants that we had a year ago.

The board’s decisions, under direction from Dr. Ed Richardson, have caused this situation.

So was the boy’s school ready? The best I can offer is a qualified yes. They were as ready as was humanly possible with the time and resources they had.

Yet because of the phenomenal work of Niki Bowling my boy’s special education teacher, Principal Carol Costello, the dedicated Special Education staff from the central office, Nancy Barnes and Amy Varnon, who spent the day at Challenger, AAA, and Hampton Cove covering holes and putting out fires, and three fantastic aides who were running like crazy to keep up with a huge class, Deborah Chavers, Kim Collins, and Jennifer Lewis, the first day went off without incident.

This is nothing short of miraculous.

If you spend any time at all in any of the system’s resource rooms, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Niki, Deborah, Kim and Jennifer did not have the luxury to blink today. And yet within minutes they knew every child’s name, history, allergies, stemming signals, calming techniques, and “I have to go potty” signs.

They were incredible. Absolutely incredible.

If Dr. Wardynski wants to celebrate efficiency, excellence, dedication and devotion to a calling, he should do everything he can to replicate these special educators who have dedicated their lives to the service of others.

And because of the excellent planning on the part of Mrs. Costello in pulling in other subs and volunteers, these four were able to actually take a bathroom break during the day. These others subs and volunteers included: Terry Klinkhammer, Ann Myer, Belinda Plemmons, and the boy’s fantastic OT, Kelly Smith.

This is what it took to make it work today. Miraculous planning and a singleminded passion to guide kids out of the fog.

And the stunning thing is that is just one parent’s story. This same story was repeated thousands of times over this morning.

And it will start all over again tomorrow morning and for the next 179 days.

Imagine what this fantastic team could accomplish if they had the full support of the system’s administration rather than having to carry the burden of the cuts from this past year.

If you want to witness a miracle, watch a teacher teach. And you will believe.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.