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Nashua dealing with increase of special needs, ELL students

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent

February 12. 2018 11:00PM




NASHUA —The local school district is dealing with an increased number of special needs students and pupils identified as English language learners, prompting requests to provide the students with additional services.

There are 1,353 Nashua students using English as their second language, according to Robert Cioppa, director of special services and ELL (English language learners) for the district.

Last week, he asked the Board of Education’s Budget Committee to hire at least four new ELL teachers to assist with the growing ELL population.

“They require an awful lot of support, and at this point in the program we are not able to provide that support,” said Cioppa, explaining that there can be 45 to 60 ELL students assigned to one ELL teacher.

In addition, he said 65 of the ELL students are homeless, more than 200 of them have learning disabilities and about 106 of them are refugees who require more than just academic assistance.

He asked school officials to hire more ELL teachers to assist with the growing program. Superintendent Jahmal Mosley is recommending in his proposed budget that two new ELL teachers be hired, however Cioppa said he felt the need to advocate for at least four.

Aside from the growing ELL numbers, there is also an increase of special education students within the city’s school district. Since the 2013-2014 school year, the number of special needs students has jumped about 8.5 percent, according to school officials.

“I want you to note that our autism rate and our emotional disturbance rate has grown significantly since 2013,” said Chris Breen, director of special education.

With the changing population, Breen said the number of school psychologists has remained stagnant. She is suggesting the district hire an additional psychologist to help with the demand.

Breen told the committee that one psychologist may only be available two days a week at one city school, adding that absence may stretch work for case managers, teachers and building administrators.

She said some special education students are placed out of the district because of behavioral issues, adding more school psychologists might be able to work with those students and keep them in the school district.

“We have 351 special education paraeducators supporting students with disabilities in all settings across the district,” she said, adding they are provided with services such as speech therapy, language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, vision assistance and more.

Mosley is recommending hiring a school psychologist, as well as 15 other staff district wide for the upcoming school year. He recently presented his proposed fiscal year 2019 budget to the committee — a $110 million budget that represents a 3.41 percent increase over the existing spending plan.

The committee is now reviewing his proposal, which is higher than Mayor Jim Donchess’ recommended school budget of no more than a 2.1 percent increase.


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