This is a picture of me, Brooks, and his kindergarten teacher. It was taken last August, when she came to my home to meet Brooks and get a sense of how she could help him overcome his challenges and ignite his love of learning. She sketched out a road map that day, one that would enable her to work alongside my son’s speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and counselors to make him into a student. Like all good leaders, she would have to build an environment where team members could easily communicate in order to make consistent and lasting contributions to my son’s school career.
She happens to be an extraordinary teacher, but that doesn’t make her stand out in the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) Nest program. Every teacher here is extraordinary. Because they are carefully hired. Because they are extensively trained. In autism. In the sensory issues of autism, so that they can design appropriate lesson plans to strengthen my son’s emerging handwriting skills. In the anxiety issues of autism, so that they can design appropriate interventions when he starts sobbing because he misspelled a word. In the social issues of autism, so that they can create opportunities for him to play with his peers and help him find joy within those interactions.
Unfortunately, the DOE recently announced a “hiring freeze” that limits principals to an internal pool of available teachers, none of whom apparently have the early childhood special education training and experience necessary to make them viable candidates for ASD Nest.
Already, the program had no new hires to send to their one-of-a-kind Hunter training program that began yesterday, and no one has an answer about the fate of the two new classes at my son’s school (PS 178), not to mention all the other ASD Nest schools throughout the City. Who will teach these new classes?
And what about all the other special education programs that will suffer these same unfortunate consequences? For instance, will the American Sign Language School have to hire its new teachers from the pool, even if none are fluent in sign language?
Chancellor Klein has made some exceptions to this new policy, including new schools and charter schools, and the New York Times reported last month that “some hiring restrictions could be lifted by the end of the summer if there was a dearth of internal candidates in certain neighborhoods or subjects.”
Perhaps Garth Harries, in charge of special-education services review, could step in? If Harries could swiftly lift this restriction with respect to special education programs, he would earn tremendous support from parents who are eager to believe in his promises to help our kids.
There’s no question that kids with autism can succeed, that they can grow into inquisitive, compassionate, and communicative human beings, albeit often quirky ones. But they can’t do it without the support of highly specialized, smart, well-trained and devoted teachers that ASD Nest routinely provides.