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posted: 5/27/2012 6:44 PM

Dist. 25 parents oppose special education staffing changes

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Parents of Arlington Heights special education students are complaining about a social worker being transferred away from a program at Westgate School.

Four people addressed the Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board on the topic on Thursday, and about 20 more in the audience applauded in support.

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The complaints were about the transfer of Natalie Swanson, who works with a special education program called Integrated Services.

"Social workers over the course of years build relationships with staff, students and families. They are the one constant when teachers change over the years," said Joseph Peabody, "especially in special education."

Peabody, a parent, praised Swanson's special skills and called her "the glue that holds everything together."

The board has a policy of not commenting during meetings on statements from the public.

Superintendent Sarah Jerome said in an interview Friday that Swanson's transfer was part of a movement of social workers at three schools, and one reason was the need to move a bilingual social worker from Patton to Windsor, which has seen growth in Spanish-speaking families.

"It is harder for social workers to leave," said Jerome. "By the very nature of their work they are so invested with family, children and parents and build bridges."

However, Jerome said, all 750 employees work for the district rather than the individual schools where they are assigned. She shared a letter she sent to district staff about personnel changes at the schools.

"The guiding practice for district administrators who must make these decisions is to create an equitable distribution of staff to students and to make the most appropriate matching of student needs to staff skills and talents," she said.

The man hired to work with the 40 students in the program brings strong experience with young people with significant behavior problems, which is a growing challenge in all school districts, said Dennis Joyce, director of student services, who is in charge of the special education program.

For the last two years, District 25 and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 have been using the same consultant for staff training and advice for student behavior management, especially concerning youngsters on the autism spectrum.

Lisa Ladson, the consultant, recently completed a report on the Integrated Services program at Westgate, said Joyce. One of her suggestions was a shared teaching assistant who could support students with their reading education and small group work.

Jerome said the special education program is so strong that people move into the District 25 area so their children can participate.

"We have a stellar special education program," she said. We get accolades every single year from parents about how appreciative they are."

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