A provision that would have improved access to training and career advancement for some of the state’s lowest-paid workers in the classroom, many of whom are employed to help students in need, appears to have been lost. this year due to cost and budget concerns.
Kelly McQueeney, an Avon School District paraprofessional, said she needs to learn a variety of skills for her job helping students with different needs, including sign language, using alternative communication devices, and some types of walkers.
Soccorro Testut, a paraprofessional from Norwich, said one of the most useful trainings was in how to translate and teach bilingual students.
Paraprofessionals who spoke to CT Examiner said the development opportunities, including the ability to learn the lingo used in special education plans, would better prepare them to do their jobs and give them a way to progress in their careers. career. And not having that professional development, they warned, would have a negative effect on students. In the case of McQueeney and many other paraprofessionals, at least some of these students have special needs.
“The more training we get, the more diverse the training…the more universal it is across the state,” McQueeney told CT Examiner, the more support students will have.
In Connecticut schools, paraeducators act as teacher assistants, helping to meet the needs of students under the direct supervision of a teacher. Unlike a teacher, paraeducators must hold a degree in education or any type of certification – the only requirement is a high school diploma and at least two years of higher education.
And these standards are reflected in the relatively modest salary of labor in most districts. Last year in Madison, the starting salary for a paraprofessional was $12.79 an hour; in New London it was $15.35 per hour, in Fairfield $15.93 per hour and in Darien $25.45 to $32.41 per hour, depending on the duties of the paraeducator .
A reduction of invoices, limitation of costs
During this legislative session, the Paraeducator Advisory Council, created by the legislature in 2008 and made up of representatives from each of the unions representing paraprofessionals, supported legislation that would have local school districts required provide a minimum of 18 hours of professional development for paraeducators focused on best practices in teaching and improving student achievement.
This training provision was removed from the bill by the legislature’s budget committee, leaving paraprofessional training to individual school districts.
McQueeney, who works at Roaring Brook Elementary School in Avon and is president of the local paraprofessional union, said her district provides professional development for its paraeducators — about six days per school year.
In contrast, Hyclis Williams, a paraeducator at the Reginald Mayo Early Learning Center in New Haven, said her district is seriously lacking in opportunities for paraprofessionals to receive training.
Williams, who is also the head of the local paraprofessional union representing 420 paraeducators, said that in a district like New Haven, paraprofessionals actually help guide teachers on how to control student behavior, especially if the teacher not used to working with a diverse population. or does not understand the “culture” of the neighborhood.
“If you come to New Haven and you [have] never dealt with a diverse group of students and you walk into a classroom you have no idea what you are going to do when a child says something or does something,” she said . “The para is the one who’s going to manage that and teach you or direct you on this whole process of how these kids work and what you need to do to bring the behavior under control.”
Williams and Soccorro Testut, a paraprofessional from Kelly Junior High in Norwich, said part of the challenge of becoming a paraeducator was learning the jargon used in educational settings, especially when it comes to children who have learning difficulties. learning or medical conditions.
“Learn the [vocabulary] which is necessary to even read the IEP and understand that it is something the [professional development] days could help us,” said Testut, who has been a paraprofessional for nine years. “Also, medical. So if you have a child who has a social-emotional disorder, it’s good that we know – what does that mean? What does this mean on a daily basis for this child?
Testut said she also received training on how to properly restrain students, which she says allowed her to restrain students without harming herself or them.
Williams said she would have liked to see professional development available that would give paraeducators the opportunity to become teachers or social workers if they so choose. She said the low salaries of paraeducators prevent them from seeking this additional training themselves.
“We are already doing the job and now all you have to do is give us the training so we can get certified to do the job,” she said.
State Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, chair of the legislature’s budget committee, told CT Examiner that the decision to scrap part of the bill was purely financial. Osten said it was one of many bills with reduced provisions requiring funding, given the limited dollars available in the governor’s budget.
Osten said the Legislature does not yet have an estimate of what the paraeducator bill would have cost, but she said the Office of Fiscal Analysis – the agency responsible for calculating the cost of the paraeducation projects proposed legislation – told the appropriations committee that the bill would either require the state to provide funding to cities in the form of a grant, or it would be a “substantial” cost to individual cities.
The bill, in its current form, allows paraeducators to access information about a child’s special education plan and involves them in Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings to discuss special education services of the child – a provision that paraeducators have described as “non-brain.
Williams said having this insight lets paraprofessionals know what behaviors are acceptable for a child and the best ways to avoid behavior problems. It also allows them to share information with other members of the child’s special education team.
But the current bill also eliminates another proposal made by the Paraeducator Advisory Council — the formation of a group to study the creation of formal certification for paraeducators. Williams said such certification would have given an advantage to paraprofessionals who wanted to further their education, so they didn’t have to retake courses they had already trained for.
For McQueeney, the benefit was more to give paraprofessionals a level of certification that other members of a special education team — such as occupational therapists, speech pathologists and registered behavior technicians — are already required to have. She said she had heard of the para-educator role as a “mom’s job”.
“It’s a career for people. I know paras who have been doing this for 20, 30 years. This is not a mother’s job,” she said. “The paras do this work because they have a passion for helping students with special needs. And that’s what it’s really about – giving us the proper training and recognition through certification.