New student support teams receive criticism

NANAIMO A new method of supporting students got off to a rocky start, but it will continue next year.

A new method to support students that Nanaimo school officials tried this year got off to a rocky start, but it will continue next year.

The Nanaimo school district’s new approach to helping struggling learners hinges on providing support to these students at an earlier stage – before they fail – by making teams of specialists available to teachers who request assistance in their classrooms.

The model, called response to intervention, includes three tiers of intervention – support for an entire class, a group of students or an individual student with significant needs in academic or behavioural development.

But a staff report presented at a recent board meeting acknowledges that not all district employees are jumping on board with the new model and this makes it difficult to move forward with the initiative, as it requires collaboration between all teachers, administrators and support staff.

The report notes the district has been criticized for underestimating the extent of this change and not providing educators with sufficient communication, direction or leadership, and there is skepticism about the ability of the specialist teams to discuss a referral when team members don’t know anything about the student referred.

But it also states that the implementation of the model has been more widespread than senior staff thought possible in “year zero” and those who are embracing the model are happy with the results.

Mike Ball, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the model was implemented at the beginning of the year with no input from or consultation with teachers and the district brought it in first, then tried to explain it to people after it was already in place.

“I think the program has some merit, but do it properly,” he said. “Apparently there was an implementation committee and no one was aware of it.”

The union surveyed teachers in January and March to determine if the model is working and many members stated they were not involved at all in the rollout of response to intervention.

Ball said the second survey’s results showed that some people had started to find the model useful, but others felt that resources were centralized and taken away from the classroom.

“To be really fair, it needs another year to see if it’s going to function,” he said. “It can only improve from here, providing resources are available.”

Ball said one change that could make a big difference is making decisions closer to the school level rather than through the district-level teams.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the district needs to improve the referral process and ensure teachers see the benefits of the initiative.

“I guess they may see it as a threat to their current practice, but it certainly isn’t,” he said.