by Justin Murphy
Rochester City School District special education chief Theresa Wood quit abruptly Monday, just two months after assuming leadership of the district’s most urgent area of need.
RCSD hired Wood effective Dec. 1, luring her out of retirement from special education administration in the New York State Education Department. She took over for Sandy Simpson, who had been serving as interim director after Christopher Suriano left RCSD for the state’s top special education job in September 2016.
Wood returned from a week-long vacation on Monday, submitted her resignation and left. She has not yet responded to requests for comment.
Her departure continues the lack of special education leadership at a time when that department’s shortcomings threaten to swamp RCSD’s broader improvement plans.
A botched change in duties related to required meetings for students with disabilities has drawn the ire of both teachers and administrators and interfered with students’ ability to receive the services to which they’re entitled. Simply put, there are not enough people with the proper qualifications and training to do all the work needed for students with disabilities.
In January, Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams commissioned former School of the Arts Principal Brenda Pacheco to serve as a “special assistant” on the topic. The school board recently created its own public commission to study the problem and make recommendations.
Special education has been inadequate in RCSD for generations, but long-time observers say it is worse now than ever. A consultant report last spring called student performance “dismal,” and said the district’s organization and practices were to blame.
One recommendation was for the district to stop classifying students unnecessarily. Nevertheless, enrollment projections released last month predict that within 10 years, one in four students in the district will have a disability.
The Empire Justice Center, which sued the district once before and helped supervise a decades-long consent decree, has threatened to do the same again.
The district received comparatively good news Wednesday, though, when the state announced its graduation rate for students with disabilities increased significantly, from 27.6 percent to 33.7. That is still the worst mark among New York’s Big 5 urban school districts but represents a major jump from 18.7 percent in 2012.