Senio said the key to having positive results with students with learning disabilities is evaluating them properly.
“We need to do a good job understanding their disability and how it manifests itself, and then have goals we are working toward,” she said.
Senio said it’s been her experience that teachers are too focused on behavioral issues.
“We need to stop talking about behavior and start talking about learning,” she said. “What support do they need to learn? That change in thinking can take a long time to sink in.”
Fielding a question from a School Committee member, Senio said she is aware of the district’s successful and popular special education program at the St. James Alternative School, but not the details. The program is credited with saving the city millions of dollars because it allows students with learning disabilities to be educated in the district, rather then sent to expensive schools outside Haverhill. The school also generates money by accepting students from outside of Haverhill.
“If you are going to have a separate program, there should be a reason for it and the goal should be to return students to the mainstream at some point,” Senio said. “But I would never say I’m going to change something without observing it first.”
Senio said that in Delaware, she oversaw a program aimed at teaching special needs students job and career skills.
“We emphasized reading and reading comprehension,” she said.
Another program there modeled the workplace, she said. Students in it practiced filling out job applications, interviewing for jobs and learning how to dress appropriately in the workplace, she said.
Senio said she knows what it’s like to work in a community with financial constraints and which closely watches spending.
“In Claremont, I presented the budget every year and it was a challenge because the community and the local taxpayers saw the special education budget as a big money drain,” she said. “I know how to be efficient and cost-conscious.”