To cope with class sizes and enhance education in primary grades at Thompson School, the Arlington School Committee earlier this month approved a new position – inclusion specialist -- as the district prepares for the first day of classes.

The vote to approve the position as presented was 5-0, with two committee members – Len Kardon and Paul Schlichtman – absent. The meeting, conducted solely via Zoom on the afternoon of Aug. 18, was 12 minutes long.

This position, said Superintendent Elizabeth Homan at the meeting, is precisely what Thompson School leaders had specifically requested: a role requiring dual licensing, expertise in providing “intensive support” and an individual capable to “talk about concerns to address whatever the learning challenge is.”

She added more recently, “It is already posted; we're hopeful it will be filled quickly.” She noted that “This is a standard title used across departments. We have specialists in content areas and departments across the district.”

 The person chosen would be expected to “be in a classroom for the whole day” as a rule and would be qualified to substitute teach, though that is something that it is hoped would occur rarely.

Enrollment at Thompson cited

One major goal is to address relatively high enrollments at Thompson School, the largest in enrollment of Arlington Public Schools’ seven K-5 campuses. The average enrollment in primary grades at Thompson currently is projected at 24.5 students in each grade 2 class; 22.5 students in each grade 1 class; and 20 in each kindergarten class. The area of greatest concern is in second grade, when reading ability is emphasized.

In response to a YourArlington inquiry, Homan said, “We do not have a specific regulatory limit on class sizes, though we strive to keep them between 18 and 25.”

Per the official job description, the goal of the inclusion specialist is “to provide direct support to students and teachers in order to provide the most inclusive environment possible for all students. The inclusion specialist provides interventions to students plus advises and consults with teachers on strategies to promote inclusive interventions in the general education settings.”

The person hired will work as needed with student support teams at the campus. Homan explained recently via email that such teams “are designed to help educators adjust their practice to meet the needs of a specific student who might be struggling academically or in other ways (with peers, with attendance, with behavior, etc.). The inclusion specialist can offer strategies and expertise to colleagues to help that student successfully learn in the classroom, with peers.”

Minimum qualifications are a master's degree in general education or special education; SEI endorsement; and Massachusetts certification in general education and special education or related field with five or more years of successful classroom teaching experience. “Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) is an approach to teaching academic content in English to ELLs [English language learners]," according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The salary range will be per the contract that the district has with the Arlington Education Association, the bargaining unit that represents classroom personnel.

As to where the money to pay this new employee will come from, Homan said, “It will be posted to the Thompson budget and is able to be funded from the salary reserves we place in the budget every year to accommodate fluctuations in class size.”

Hiring fair called worthwhile

The Aug. 18 meeting was the first full school committee meeting since June 15 and was designated as a special meeting. The next meeting is anticipated to be Aug. 30.

Classes are set to begin in less than two weeks; district-wide, many positions remain unfilled, though there are some 20 fewer vacancies listed now than just before APS held its in-person “hiring fair” on Aug. 16The district was very pleased with that event; Dr. Homan on Aug. 25 provided numbers as follows:

Twenty-three candidates attended the fair.

An additional 13 had reached out before the fair because they realized that they would not be able to be present Aug. 16; those people were screened by telephone and connected with a hiring manager for an interview.

Nine people who attended were offered a job "on the spot" pending reference checks.

Twelve people who attended were referred to a different hiring manager (someone who would be a better fit for the candidate to be interviewed by but who was not present at the hiring fair).

Two people learned about APS openings from pre-fair publicity and said they plan to reach back out if they are interested in applying

"We were very happy with the results," Dr. Homan said. "We absolutely plan to do this again due to the success we had."  


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This news summary by YourArlington Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Aug. 25, 2023.

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