More support needed for special needs students

Coquitlam district on a hiring spree to fill EA positions to support an increasing number of special needs students

School District 43 is on a hiring spree to get education assistants (EA) in place to support dozens of students with special needs by the new year.

This year, the district has hired 65 additional educational assistants in a variety of 20- and 30-hour positions to be allocated to schools depending on the need. More will be hired over the next several weeks because more students with identified needs arrived in schools in September than were originally projected.

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“We’re continuing to push and hire as many people as we can,” said Paul McNaughton, the district’s director of learning services, who said the increased needs are a combination of new families arriving in the district and students receiving a diagnosis who are already in a Tri-City public school.

“Our growth has been so big, it seems like every year our numbers are increasing," he said.

When new jobs are posted, there is often movement as current employees change into the new spots, creating some juggling and vacant posts that need to be filled. As well, there is a constant need to find people to fill in when staff are sick.

He speculated that the increase in the number of students who arrived in schools in September could be because some people consider the Tri-Cities an affordable place to live.

“I think we’ve had a lot of success. Maybe people are moving from perhaps where they can’t afford to live anymore. Quite often, word of mouth gets around if someone had a good experience,” McNaughton said.

Typically, schools are visited between January and March to get a good idea of the support needed, with McNaughton’s team doing a needs assessment using a tool developed locally that looks at student health, safety and education needs for children with autism, chronic health issues, developmental disabilities and other educational needs. These children get extra provincial funding to meet their special needs.

The EA staffing requirements for the year are put into the budget for April, with the idea of deploying support workers to schools in September. But this year, 58 more students arrived in September — in addition to the 80 originally projected and on top of 980 students with special needs already in local schools.

The result is the district is constantly hiring. A crop of practicum students in classrooms could help meet the need for more staff when they graduate from college programs and McNaughton expects that a recent job fair will generate resumes, as well.

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