Leadership change coming for city’s special education sector
A leadership change is in store for the New York City schools serving students with the most complicated needs.
The Department of Education is seeking a new superintendent for District 75, a sector of the department that serves many of the city's highest-need children with disabilities, including those who have severe emotional challenges, are on the autism spectrum or have multiple disabilities. D75 students require a great deal of specialized adult support and cannot be taught in district schools.
The current D75 superintendent, Gary Hecht, is retiring from the department after 37 years. He will be replaced on an interim basis by Ketler Louissaint, another longtime D75 teacher and administrator. Deputy city schools chancellor Dorita Gibson praised both Hecht and Louissaint in recent emails to department officials and field staff.
The department listed a job listing for the permanent new superintendent — with an annual salary of at least $173,000 — this week.
D75 is a relatively small portion of the overall department, with 58 schools along with home and hospital instruction. But the state of D75 is a hugely important indicator of how the department educates its most vulnerable student population, and special education advocates follow any changes to D75's leadership and programming closely.
The change at D75 comes on the heels of a troubling report about the city's overall special education population. The report, first reported by POLITICO New York, found that 40 percent of the city's 187,000 students with special needs are not fully receiving the services they require.
The report sparked outrage among special education advocates and organizations, and Public Advocate Letitia James called for a complete overhaul of the city's system for special education services.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and city schools chancellor Carmen Fariña have both advocated for the inclusion model of special education services, in which children with special needs are put in the least restrictive settings possible.
Perhaps because of the focus on inclusion, neither the chancellor nor the mayor has spoken at much length — at least publicly — on D75.
De Blasio's one major special education-related reform was aimed at reducing litigation associated with placements for special needs students in non-public settings. Fariña has focused much of her special education work on expanding the NEST program, an initiative to help students on the autism spectrum integrate more with general education students.
There have been rumblings about the department possibly doing away with D75 altogether in recent years, although department officials have always maintained there are no plans to eliminate it.
Instead, advocates say, there's a sector-wide call for the district to have more interaction with the 32 so-called "non-specialized" school districts in order to boost inclusion across the system.
"The issue for us on D75 is that it's one or the other," said Maggie Moroff, the special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children, a special education advocacy group. "Students are either in non-specialized schools or they are in D75, and there's very, very little movement back and forth. It's really important to us that there's much more of a fluid relationship."
D75 programs boast a great deal of expertise, she said, but naturally lack the academic rigor of the non-specialized schools.
"Our search for a permanent superintendent is ongoing, and we are meeting with educators, community organizations and families to ensure that we hire the most qualified candidate to lead District 75 for years to come," deputy chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi said in a statement Thursday.
See the DOE job listing here: http://bit.ly/1QWrCDo.