Wake schools trying to help more special-needs youngsters
Posted April 28, 2015
Cary, N.C. — The number of special-needs students entering Wake County schools is growing along with overall enrollment, and officials say they need more pre-kindergarten classrooms to work with them as early as possible.
Superintendent Jim Merrill has included $2.3 million in his proposed $1.4 billion budget for 2015-16 to expand pre-K services for students with disabilities. The Wake County Public School System has 80 pre-K classrooms to accommodate such students, and Merrill's budget would add 13.
"It puts kids on a level playing field with their peers, and they're more apt to be ready at kindergarten," Assistant Superintendent Brenda Elliott said.
Federal law requires the district to provide services to children 3 and older identified as having special needs. More than 1,800 students now meet that definition, but Elliott said the district is identifying 90 new special-needs students each month.
"We have assessment teams out identifying children. We're actively engaged with our community," she said.
Sarah Hill, a pre-K teacher at Aversboro Elementary School in Garner, said she worries that some students will fall through the cracks if special-needs programs don't expand.
"There's a lot of kids in there, and it's really hard to meet everyone's needs in one classroom," Hill said. "Having enough materials to meet everyone's developmental needs in one classroom can be difficult."
District officials eventually want to have a special-needs pre-K classroom in all 120 elementary schools across Wake County.
The county Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on Merrill's budget proposal in June as it considers the county's 2015-16 budget.