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.
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.
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.
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.