Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Education

Hillsborough School Board votes on new ESE chief

TAMPA — Maryann Parks will be the next general director of the troubled Exceptional Student Education program for Hillsborough County public schools, pending a vote today by the School Board.

Board Chairwoman April Griffin said she was notified Monday of Parks' selection.

"She's been well-vetted, and she has a very strong background in ESE," Griffin said.

Parks, 56, joined the district in 1979 as an ESE teacher, said district spokesman Stephen Hegarty. She became an ESE specialist in 1988, a district resource teacher in ESE in 2001 and a supervisor in 2008.

If approved as general director, she will replace Joyce Wieland, who took a lateral transfer to another district job in December.

The district has spent the past several months responding to the deaths last year of two children in ESE, which serves 29,000 students.

Isabella Herrera, a 7-year-old with a neuromuscular disorder, died after suffering respiratory distress on a school bus in January 2012. Many School Board members did not know about the incident until her parents filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 1.

On Oct. 22, 11-year-old Jennifer Caballero, who had Down syndrome, wandered away from Rodgers Middle School in Riverview and drowned in a pond.

In response to the two deaths, superintendent MaryEllen Elia assembled a work group to improve safety for ESE students. Parks is one of the core members of that group.

Improvements in place or under way include mandatory safety training for all employees, safety videos for those who arrive midyear and standard procedures to address the issue of students who "elope," or run away.

Parks did not return a call Monday for comment.

The head of the district's ESE advisory council was happy to hear of Parks' pending promotion.

"I think it's a very good choice," said Ana Sanders, who chairs the panel of parents, district employees and service providers.

"She is very well-versed in all aspects of ESE. She knows her stuff. If you have a question, she has an answer for you right away."

School Board member Cindy Stuart said she is pleased with Parks' experience and credentials. According to the Florida Department of Education website, her four certifications include one in emotionally handicapped education.

"I'm glad we are appointing someone who has the qualifications," she said. "I think we've been kind of waiting and the division needs to move forward. We are moving in the right direction."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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