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Internal Hire of Special Education Director Irks Some Bedford Parents

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The Bedford Board of Education approved a new director of special education last week despite pleas from some special education parents and community members who questioned how an internal promotion will improve the program.

Assistant Director of Special Education Toni Ann Carey was appointed in a 6-1 vote by the board, a move that was recommended by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Glass. However, several public speakers warned school officials that the troubled department needed a complete overhaul.

“We need a lot of work and I’m going to call upon the members of the Board of Education to vote correctly this evening. The answer is no,” said speaker Diana Longo Altro. “Do not promote the candidate that you’re looking to do. Hire an interim. It’s mandatory. Otherwise, we’re going to have an Escobar situation on our hands again.”

Altro was referring to former director of pupil personnel services Dr. Edward Escobar who was one of the administrators replaced for bungling the investigation of last year’s scandal at Fox Lane High School where photos had been taken of several special education in a boys’ bathroom and circulated. That incident angered and frustrated some parents of special education students, especially for those who have repeatedly charged that their concerns on a range of issues have been ignored by the district for years.

Parent Karen Close, whose son was one of the victimized students in last year’s incident and a member of the committee to help whittle the list of candidates, said there were five candidates for the position, four of whom were from outside the district. But Close indicated that the pool of candidates was weak.

She called on the board to reject Carey, hire another interim and bring in an independent search team with no ties to the district.

“We need leaders who will say aloud BCSD has a culture problem,” Close said. “Promoting a candidate who is part of this culture for the last 10 years is not going to promote the changes that the Bedford School District needs. This is a fact.”

The vote at last Wednesday evening’s board meeting came a week after about 50 parents attended a special education town hall forum where deep criticisms and concerns about the program were raised. Glass acknowledged that there are areas where the district’s special education department must improve. The district is working with a consultant, Hanover Education Research, which will complete a report by Oct. 1 on the program. It will include best practices and recommended steps.

Glass said that he believes Carey is “absolutely the right person to lead the special education department into the future.”

“This new director’s success is the special education department’s success and the special education department’s success is the families’ and students’ success,” Glass said. “It is the district’s success, and ultimately, it’s my success. I understand how important this hire is, and my charge, first and foremost, is what do I believe is in the district’s best interest.”

The superintendent was quizzed by board Vice President Steven Matlin, who asked why there hadn’t been a nationwide search, more of a priority placed on hiring a candidate from outside the district and whether it would be wise to continue with an interim while making sure of  the next permanent hire.

“In my two years on the board, this has been the most difficult decision I have had to make, or the area that has concerned me the most,” Matlin said moments before the vote. “As I sit here, I’m not sure how I’m going to vote.”

Glass responded that the district’s special education program has had much turnover in recent years and has had multiple interims. Another year with an interim director could delay the improvement that is sought.

He added that there is nothing special about whether a district pursues a promotion or someone who is from outside the district, but the goal must be hiring the best person for the job at a specific time.

“In my opinion it’s not always about the internal or the external. It’s about looking at the situation and deciding is this what’s right at this time in history based on all the information I have,” Glass said.

He also explained that a fear that he held was not making a courageous decision that may be unpopular but is right for Bedford.

“The things that drove me to the internal is the strengths, the character, the coachability and all the good characteristics I saw in this candidate, and also knowing the risks that go on by going outside (the district) are the unknowns,” Glass said.

Matlin voted for Carey and stated that he will be looking for change.

“I think we all know that change needs to be made,” Matlin explained. “This is not someone stepping in and keeping the ship going. There needs to be dramatic change made, there needs to be dramatic change made immediately.”

The dissenting vote came from Trustee Gilian Klein. She said her decision was not to be construed as a vote of no confidence for Carey or Glass, but it is an issue of timing and other changes she would like to see.

Carey will become the new director of special education effective July 1.





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