Parents, candidates talk special education |

Parents, candidates talk special education

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EDWARDS ” How can the school board improve special education in Eagle County?

That’s what a group of parents asked school board candidates at a debate and discussion Wednesday evening hosted by Family Connections, a nonprofit aimed at raising awareness of special education issues in Eagle County.

School board candidates Margaret Olle, Jeanne McQueeney and Keith Thompson participated, along with several parents of special needs children, school district staff and board member Connie Kincaid-Strahan.

“Special education makes up only 10 percent of the school population ” it’s easily overlooked,” said parent Rosie Moreno.

She asked the school board candidates, “What is the role of the school board in special education?”

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“The school board has to be the leader in making sure the laws are followed and that people are in place to meet the needs of the children,” Olle said.

A major problem in special education is finding and keeping qualified teachers, McQueeney said. Teachers leaving because of cost of living and pay is a problem seen all over the school district, not just in special education, she said.

“It’s not that we’re not trying ” it’s the starting salary,” McQueeney said.

She said the role of the board is finding ways to fund better salaries to stay competitive and recruit the best teachers.

Olle agreed that keeping teachers is a problem, saying the district loses quite a few veteran teachers because of pay and benefits. She wants to know if money spent training first- and second-year teachers would be better spent on improving benefits and pay to keep teachers here longer.

Parents wanted to know how training could be improved for teachers without a special education background. Should extra training be mandated? Rewarded? Just encouraged?

Thompson said the best way to ensure teachers are receiving adequate training for special education students is to actually bring the issue before the Board of Education at a work session, so the complex problems could be worked out with people who are making decisions.

McQueeney said the most important thing is to hire teachers with the right attitude, teachers who “get it,” teachers who want to learn as much as they can about each individual student. In that case, requiring training becomes less of a problem.

Olle said she’d like to see the community as a whole have a better understanding of special education, which could be a matter of setting up presentations at PTO meetings.

Parents wanted to know how special education can be a priority, even when its not on a school board agenda.

Thompson said principals can have the greatest impact on a school, and their attitude toward special education can make a big difference. Good principals, along with a strong superintendent, will greatly help special education, he said.

Parents said they wanted board members who would make special education a criteria when hiring a new superintendent.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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