The Hillsborough County school district will conduct focus groups this summer about exceptional student education, the district's new ESE chief told an advisory council on Friday.
Principals and assistant principals, parents, teachers and students will take part in the directed discussions.
"What we're hoping to see is a thread among all the stakeholders of some of the goals and places where we need to go," Maryann Parks, general director of ESE, told the Superintendent's Advisory Council for the Education of Students with Disabilities.
Now on the job a month, Parks said she also is trying to get ideas from other districts about how to get more ESE parents involved at the school level. "We have to look at what our peers are doing and learn from them," she said. She expects to return to the council with more information about both efforts.
In addition to the normal end-of-the-year responsibilities of a department that serves 29,000 students, Parks is implementing safety improvements that come about in the aftermath of two student deaths in 2012.
Among them: ESE paraprofessionals will all be given formal training before the new school year begins, consistent throughout the district. The sessions will last two days, with each paraprofessional attending a half-day. A national speaker will take part in the training, Parks said. Then when school begins, sessions will be given to all employees on safety and "taking ownership of all the students."
At Friday's meeting, the board also elected new officers. Mary Merryday will become the new president, replacing longtime president Ana Sanders. Merryday is a parent liaison for the district. Glenda Koshy, supervisor for the districts' autism spectrum disorder program, will be vice president. Rob Rose, the parent of two children with autism, will be secretary.