New Shelton special ed administrator’s past job raises questions
The Shelton public school system has hired a controversial administrator to be the No. 2 person on the district’s special education team.
The hiring of Liz Wesolowski, currently the director of elementary special education in Darien, has raised some eyebrows since the Darien system was found to have violated state and federal special education law in at least 32 instances, according to a two-part state Department of Education investigation.
Darien created a district-wide program designed to reduce, restrict and refuse services to children with disabilities and stifle parent involvement, the investigation showed.
Will start Shelton job on Jan. 21
Wesolowski signed an agreement with the Shelton Board of Education on Dec. 31, and will work as the assistant director of special education here starting on Jan. 21. She will be paid $129,210 — about $6,000 less than what she makes in Darien. Shelton approved her hiring on Dec. 18.
Wesolowski applied for the job just before the first of a two-part investigation by Chicago lawyer Sue Gamm was delivered on Nov. 4. This report uncovered an assortment of illegal activity, and showed Darien’s problems were systemic.
'Well versed in statutes and regulations'
Wesolowski assured Shelton school officials that she knows the law.
“I am well versed in federal statutes and corresponding state regulations, specifically the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA], and use this knowledge to guide my work…” she wrote to Shelton, after the first state report was delivered.
Burr: Darien report was reviewed
Freeman Burr, Shelton school superintendent, said he was confident in Wesolowski’s hire, despite the controversy.
“We intently reviewed the [state’s] report and the executive summary by Susan Gamm,” Burr stated in an email, adding that Shelton “remained committed to Dr. Wesolowski’s candidacy.”
Burr also implied that Wesolowski’s references helped her cause, despite parents naming two out of her three references as having contributed to last year’s problems in Darien.
The state investigation, Burr said, showed the problems with the Darien special education program began before Wesolowski was an administrator.
“I feel the issues in Darien were not caused by Dr. Wesolowski,” he said. “I didn’t see her as being responsible for those missteps.”
Burr said Wesolowski was one of 19 people to apply for the job, and she was the recommended choice by both himself and a selection committee.
Adhering to guidelines
In her résumé, sent after the state’s second report, Wesolowski also notes how she trained “staff in special education law and regulations within IDEA and state regulations.”
The district’s training materials were riddled with illegal directives, the state and investigator Gamm found.
Wesolowski also tells Shelton that she ensures that the teams she leads “adhere to the guidelines … to make eligibility determinations for special education…”
Darien was found to have restricted certain services by using illegal eligibility criteria.
Lack of data
Wesolowski notes how she aligned “the philosophies and practices of general education, special education and (SRBI) teams at the elementary and middle school levels.”
One of the key elements in investigator Gamm’s report was the lack of data showing whether SRBI was working. This intervention program is designed to give extra help to students who begin to struggle in class, but critics say it’s often used to delay providing services to children with disabilities.
“I have been an active (SRBI) team member and staff developer, serving as a leader in providing intervention strategies and data-collection techniques,” Wesolowski wrote in her July 31 job inquiry.
When Gamm asked for SRBI data in Darien, she was given none because there was none to give. Yet, Wesolowski’s résumé and application are full of references to her work with SRBI.
She discusses how she “guided … teachers in writing … SRBI goals…” and how she “conducted professional development sessions regarding SRBI...”
Gamm found that both staff and parents were not clear about SRBI procedures, and that the district had no SRBI manual. Darien did not follow state guidelines for best practices in implementing SRBI, and had no data to show if SRBI was working.
Gamm found that SRBI might have been used to delay providing services to children with disabilities. This delay can lead to behavior problems for some children, who act out as they fall behind, experts say.
The elementary special ed program, which Wesolowski directed, has seen the most problems in Darien. There were more procedural complaints at the elementary level last year than there were in the entire district the previous two years combined.
'Quite comfortable with our choice'
However, Burr said that based on the district’s research “and our exhaustive interview process, we are quite comfortable with our choice...”
He also emphasized that the Shelton schools have a positive record when it comes to special education services.
Wesolowski has not responded to requests for comment.
David DesRoches can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Darien Times, like the Shelton Herald, is a Hersam Acorn Newspapers publication.