Chancellor Receives Recommendations on Improving Special Education in New York City Public Schools
Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced the appointment of Laura Rodriguez as Chief Achievement Officer for Special Education and English Language Learners. In her new capacity, Ms. Rodriguez will be charged with improving outcomes for New York City’s highest needs children—those with special needs and those who are still learning English. Beginning July 15, 2009, Ms. Rodriguez will manage the Office of Special Education Initiatives, the Department of Education’s District 75, and the Office of English Language Learners (ELLs). The Chancellor also received recommendations today from his Senior Coordinator for Special Education, Garth Harries, based on a four-month review of the City’s special education services. The recommendations focus on better targeting special education services to individual students, increasing family involvement, and more comprehensively integrating special education into the overall school reform efforts of the Department of Education (DOE). The Chancellor is asking advocacy groups and other public school community members for feedback on the recommendations by mid-August, but is implementing one of them immediately by appointing Ms. Rodriguez to her new post.
“Laura Rodriguez is a strong, respected, and effective leader who will oversee our effort to integrate the Department’s work for students with disabilities and English Language Learners into the fabric of our Children First Reforms,” Chancellor Klein said. “Students with disabilities and ELLs have made significant gains over the past seven years, but we can and must do better. Despite recent improvements, our results for these students fall short of my expectations.”
Ms. Rodriguez has worked in the New York City public schools since 1978, and has extensive experience working with English Language Learners. Ms. Rodriguez is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the DOE’s Leadership Learning Support Organization (LLSO), overseeing 136 schools and 76,000 students. Since the LLSO began supporting schools in 2007, the percentage of its students graduating on time has increased by nearly 14 percentage points, and substantially more students in grades 3-8 are meeting and exceeding standards in math and reading. Ms. Rodriguez started as a teacher of English Language Learners and has held many positions within the DOE, including Regional Superintendent in the Bronx, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction in the Bronx, and Director of High School Bilingual Education and English as a Second Language. In her new role, she will report directly to the Chancellor, and Dov Rokeach will serve as her top deputy. Mr. Rokeach is currently the Superintendent for Community School District 8, and has worked extensively in special education since 1972, when he began teaching students with disabilities. He previously served as a Brooklyn High School Superintendent and as the Director of High School Special Education, among other positions.
“I’m honored to continue my work serving our highest-need students. Every student deserves a personalized and targeted approach to education designed to help him or her achieve long-term success,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I’m confident we can build upon the gains we have made by improving our current systems and increasing parental engagement.”
“Appointment of a cabinet level person dedicated to working on behalf of students with disabilities and English Language Learners signals a level of commitment from the Chancellor that is encouraging,” Advocates for Children Executive Director Kim Sweet said.
“We at the United Federation of Teachers are very pleased that the Department of Education is acting to address the issues and needs of special education students and English Language Learners by appointing Laura Rodriguez and Dov Rokeach to these posts,” United Federation of Teachers Vice President Michael Mulgrew said. “They both have plenty of experience and sound expertise in their respective fields, and we look forward to working with them to give our students the best services our school system can offer.”
“I am pleased that Chancellor Klein has created a cabinet position with specific responsibilities for ELL and special education students so that their needs can be more fully addressed,” City Council Member and Chair of the Mental Health, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse, and Disability Services Committee G. Oliver Koppell said.
The Chancellor today sent recommendations by Mr. Harries to a number of stakeholders and interest groups concerned with special education and asked for feedback by mid-August. The recommendations include:
- strengthening educational planning for students with disabilities to ensure that short-term actions align to a long-term trajectory for each student;
- encouraging the design and use of flexible, targeted educational programs to serve the individual and dynamic needs of special education students;
- reinforcing special education parents’ understanding and involvement in their children’s education;
- and making special education an integrated and central focus of the DOE’s overall reform efforts.
Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Rokeach will be responsible for reviewing feedback, working with the Chancellor to decide which recommendations to pursue, and implementing changes.
Click here to read the recommendations. Those who wish to respond to the recommendations should submit their responses to SpecialEducation@schools.nyc.gov.