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Opinion: Make Sure School Support Staff Are Covered by Kirwan Reforms

To this day, there’s one student I’ll never forget. It was my first year working in a Maryland public school and I had the great luck to be assigned to a young boy who had been diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. He was non-verbal. When I began working with him, he could barely communicate at all and could not read.

After working together one-on-one, he learned to communicate with teachers and friends using an assistive device. He learned to read as well, and by the end of our year together, books became his favorite way to interact with the world.

My name is Susan Ostrinsky and I’m a Maryland public school paraeducator. My story is my own, but it’s not all that unique. Every day across our state, caring adults are making sure our children have a ride to school, food in their bellies, supervision at recess – and they’re helping the kids who need instructional support, like my first student.

The problem is that for as much as we give, we’re often overlooked. Paraprofessionals in public schools work for hourly wages, and our hours keep getting cut. When staff members leave, they aren’t being replaced with new hires. Their workload is still here though, and the few of us who remain have to take it on.

More to the point, the people who pay for cuts to support staff hours and understaffing aren’t the adults; it’s the children. When a special education paraeducator is taken from supporting instruction in the classroom to cover recess, a child suffers. When a child struggling to read loses his paraeducator so she can supervise lunch, they miss valuable learning time.

Lost hours and job cuts don’t just hurt paraeducators’ students, but our own kids too. A half hour of lost work every week can mean $2,000 in lost income to the families of support staff. That’s months of groceries, car payments, or even a month or two of rent for the families of the people who educate our children every day.

We can’t keep up this status quo, nor can our students. Our children deserve skilled, professional adults who are focused on their well-being and dedicated to their academic success.

Fortunately, we have a chance to fix this problem. In November, the Kirwan Commission released its long-anticipated report. Among its several pillars, one that stands out, titled “High Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders,” calls for investing in first-class educators as a way to invest in our children.

While this pillar names teachers in its title, it can’t be read as excluding the other educators and support staff who make our schools run and provide direct instruction to our children.

Many of us classified as support staff lead a large portion of the instruction that students receive during the school day. Some of us lead small groups and offer one-on-one instruction for students who have learning differences, who struggle with math or reading, or who require accommodations. Others still lead students in their journeys to and from school and in their daily activities.

Maryland’s students thrive when all of the professionals who provide instruction have the time and resources they need. That’s why as the General Assembly puts Kirwan’s recommendations into law and funds the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, support staff need to be included alongside teachers for funding increases. Our children deserve no less.


The writer is a Special Education Paraeducator from Montgomery County.


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Opinion: Make Sure School Support Staff Are Covered by Kirwan Reforms