New Paltz Board of Education hears lengthy presentation on helping kids after lockdown

New Paltz Deputy Superintendent of Schools Michelle Martoni opened the presentation on “response to intervention” at the December 15 School Board meeting by warning that it was going to be “long.” As most presentations given to the trustees go on for some time and include multiple speakers with slide presentations, the fact that Martoni made this comment signaled something more. The deputy superintendent was correct; this presentation lasted a full 90 minutes and included portions from every single building principal along with a number of counselors, social workers and reading teachers.

While the presentation was opened with a detailed discussion about how to define “RTI,” the fact that this initialism is short for “response to intervention” was not mentioned until after that portion of the report was complete, reinforcing the idea that while members of the public are welcome to attend meetings, the primary audience are the elected officials who are expected to understand the dense jargon used by administrators. It appears that the phrase “response to intervention” is about helping children catch up with what was lost during long months of learning only through a computer screen. There are struggles with reading, struggles with math and struggles with behavior. At all schools these deficiencies have been broken into three broad categories to help determine how much extra help is needed by any particular student in any of those areas. The problems are widespread, as many educators and parents expected they might be; regular classroom teachers are largely handling the first tier of intervention in recognition of the fact that nearly all children are behind in their learning due to this period of enforced distance learning.

It’s clear that these educators have dug deep into the research in their efforts to figure out what’s been going on and how to get these kids back on track. Extra help and guidance are being expanded throughout the district, and the teachers who reported conveyed both competence and compassion as they discussed the approaches being used. Classroom instruction is shifted when three in five students are in need of more attention, which apparently is not uncommon at this time. One portion of the presentation was devoted solely to the technical differences that crop up in children who struggle with reading, how they are diagnosed and how they are addressed. Similar approaches are used in math. The fact that most children are using technology in class means that some of that extra help can be provided in a way that avoids any potential stigma. Behavioral problems that presumably stem from isolation and lack of socialization are also being addressed largely at the classroom level. For all these issues, the other two tiers involve progressively more intense types of intervention. The message is that with this many children having trouble, resources are being used to help as many as possible.