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Hingham school officials optimistic about state's review of programs

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 7, 2013 02:24 PM

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Hingham school officials are hopeful they will do well in a state review looking at several of the schools’ programs.

The program audit, conducted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is focusing on three areas - English language learners programs, civil rights requirements, and special education agendas - and is meant to see how well Hingham complies with state and federal mandates.

“I doubt we’re going to be flawless,” said Superintendent Dorothy Galo. “We’re all human beings, but we’ve worked hard to be ready, we have good systems in place, and our goal is always to meet the guidelines.”

According to Galo, the review of these programs happens once every six years, instead of the previous five-year interval, and includes a new self-assessment component that happens before the site visits.

School officials have appreciated the opportunity to self-assess, and did catch some minor issues during that beginning stage. Yet overall, staff is hopeful that the on-site visits being conducted this week will go well.

“We always work very hard to follow the rules, regulations, and timelines,” Galo said in a phone interview. “And we work hard on that. Secondly when we did the self-assessment, we paid particular attention and found one to two things that we need to clean up. But we’re a district with 600 employees and 4200 kids. Are there things that need fixing? Sure. Sometimes it’s focusing training efforts.”

The review is a comprehensive process, and includes an assessment of some student records, interviews with administrators and teachers, and parent surveys.

And while there is a wide difference in the number of students each program supports – the district has four English language learners and almost 600 students in a special education program both in and outside of Hingham – each program’s regulations are important, Galo said.

For civil rights regulation checks, auditors will focus on the school’s guidelines, from handbook language to bullying practices.

“It’s making sure that not only do we not discriminate - the bigger picture - but we can produce evidence that we’ve got it in writing in all our handbooks?” Galo said.

Much of that process is taking place at the town’s schools this week, where in addition to interviews, state staffers may also seek out documents.

“[It’s] around the meeting of regulations, guidelines, and timelines. Not so much are they here to go into classes and evaluate teaching,” Galo said. “Sometimes you hear it called a coordinated program review, It’s also called an audit, not in terms of dollars, but in terms of compliance with the regulations: state, federal, and Department of Education.”

The weeklong site visit will wrap up tomorrow with a closing interview with the administration, where Galo said they hope to learn unofficially how they did.

The final report will be a public document, and most likely will take a few months to compile, Galo said.

“I think it’s been a very useful procedure for us,” Galo said. “Sometimes we groan about all the mandates, but they are there with good reason. It’s a worthwhile process and should reassure parents that were not only trying to do the right thing, but we can give you evidence that we’re obeying the laws and regulations.”

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