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Settling for too many paraeducator absences? Embrace a flex solution.
Special education administrators are spread way too thin; they don’t have enough paraeducators to fill absences—and finding a qualified substitute is next to impossible. When one paraprofessional calls out, the game of musical chairs begins and the students with learning disabilities who need the most academic support in classrooms lose out.
There's a better way to address this staffing challenge.
As a former special education administrator who now works for the largest education staffing company in the U.S., I’ve consulted for hundreds of districts that struggle with staying compliant with special education staffing levels. The story—though nuanced—is often the same. Classroom paraeducators or aides get moved around daily to cover the absent paraeducator whose student has an IEP that involves significant physical needs.
As a result, students who need more academic support (learning disabilities or ADHD) continue to struggle and are more likely to drop out of school. The bottom line is that districts lack the agility to provide consistent, quality classroom support. The solution is proactive absence management that improves student outcomes.
Building a strategic paraeducator talent pool.
We’ve found that talented, compassionate people who want to work in the para support role prefer more consistency over ad hoc last-minute substituting. The most successful paraeducators see it as a vocation. In identifying this as a characteristic of the role, we developed a solution.
We call our solution “MPP FLEX” which means that we manage the hiring of a full-time paraeducator who floats to cover the greatest need of the day. Like a building substitute teacher, the paraeducator is there everyday, not on call. The district determines the number of daily absences for its paraprofessional staff, and we proactively hire the appropriate number of dependable, consistent, trained full-time paraeducators. It's proactive approach to absence management versus reactive.
Not only does this ensure consistency for the students, but it also allows our full-time paraeducators to get to know district culture, school protocols, and individual students—building solid foundational relationships among all partners and stakeholders. They become a trusted part of the school community.
Proper training is critical to success.
One of the greatest benefits that districts realize from this approach is the services of a trained and increasingly more experienced floating paraeducator. This floating paraeducator can react appropriately to complicated situations that arise with students with special needs and ESL learners.
We take paraeducator training seriously. We create customized training and targeted curriculum for the role, provide support, and offer specialized workshops and classes that include:
- Crisis intervention strategies. We support the district’s training in de-escalation and crisis intervention strategy methods.
- Diapering and toileting assistance for students with special needs. We provide an interactive module that provides a basic understanding of the need for supports. Then, we hold an in-person individualized session onsite to address the student’s IEP needs.
- Live and interactive best practices in paraeducator webinar series. This series includes supporting students with autism, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, LD and ADHD, and prompting and fading of cues.
We strive to equip our paraeducators with knowledge and skills so they can help students reach their educational goals. The more a paraeducator uses these skills, the more effective they become. That’s why the full-time flexible paraeducator is significantly more strategic in achieving student outcomes and potentially reducing dropout rates.
As a former special education director, I know the battle between budget and personnel all too well. If you feel as though your district is settling for sub-par compliance with paraeducator staffing, we invite you to contact us at Kelly Education. We’re here for consultation and to brainstorm solutions with human resources and special education administrators.
About the Author: Dr. Kathleen Adolt-Silva holds a doctorate in education, with a specialization in special education. She is a former special education administrator, educator, and trainer. Kelly Education is proud to have her on our team as the director of the Managed Paraeducator Program. She uses her talents to improve special education talent at schools across the United States.
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