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How I Handled...

Finding Budget Money
To Hire Help to
Boost Student Achievement

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More than 25 percent of ours school's students are classified as "special needs." Our special ed student-teacher ratios are high so, although those kids get the attention required by their IEPs, I must look for other ways to make sure they get all the attention they need. By doing some budget math, I came upon one solution that will help ensure that students achieve success.

The Problem:

Like many inner-city schools, we have a very high percentage of students classified as "special needs;" more than 25 percent of our students have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). I have been concerned, however, about the progress some of those students have been making in their regular classrooms. I was certain that high student-teacher ratios in our resource and inclusion classes had impeded their academic progress and that I needed to provide those kids with more help. Unfortunately, hiring additional teachers was out of the question.

The Solution:

I looked at my budget, and found some unallocated Title I funds. Although I could not begin to cover a teacher's salary with the money available, I could hire additional paraprofessional help. At first, I considered hiring a full-time paraprofessional and maybe a part-time para too. Then I started doing the math: I could hire at least three part-time paras with the same money. They would work 4 hours a day during peak need times -- for example, during morning language arts and math blocks. According to Title I guidelines, the paras can be assigned to help any student in our school (We are on a Title I Schoolwide Program, or SWP.) -- including special education students. The paras would be wonderful assets in resource and inclusion classrooms.

The Reflection:

All paras in our schools must pass the paraprofessional PRAXIS test or have two years of college. Despite those requirements, we were able to secure three part-time paras. Our special needs students now are getting more one-on-one and small-group time. The paras are meeting those students' needs -- and those of other students too -- in inclusion classroom settings. The special-needs students are making better progress, and overall student achievement has increased. Although only a certified Special Education teacher can cover the minutes assigned on the student's IEP, paras can be valuable assets to students when they are in their regular education classes.

I'm pleased I chose to spend the money in this way for another reason too. Central office budget cuts loom on the horizon, but cutting the new part-time paras should be a last resort. Because they are paid with Title I monies, they pose no cost to the school board's general fund. In addition, the Board would be hard-pressed to justify cutting an expense that has proved to have a positive impact on student achievement.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. Six principals comprise our How I Handled team; two of them are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals. Team members remain anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.

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