In an unusual move, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 school board authorized the hiring of two more reading specialists in the midst of the school year at a special meeting held last week.

The decision to hire two additional reading specialists came after fall testing showed more students in the district need help with reading than had been anticipated. 

“We have students who need reading interventions based on the fall assessments,” said Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis in an email.  “We need more staff to intervene and support their needs based on the data we are reviewing. This is great news that we are able to support our students with more support, interventions and instruction.”  

Prior to the hiring of the two new specialists, the district had five reading specialists, one at each school in the district. The additional two reading specialists, who will be hired as soon as possible, will be assigned to Central and Ames schools, the two largest elementary schools in the district, Sharma-Lewis said.

Initially, the adminstration requested hiring one additional specialist. But the board subsequently decided one wasn’t enough.

“We counted up the number of students that needed support in reading and it justified the hiring of two people,” said school board president Mary Rose Mangia. “We do look at the reading specialists as helping towards of goal of improving the rank of our schools in the statewide standings.” 

Board member Randy Brockway said that the board wanted to act quickly and said that he hopes that the administration will make the new hires soon.

“It’s a positive thing that the board and administration is acting quickly to address this need,” Brockway said. “We’re not waiting until next year.”

It is somewhat unusual for a school district to hire new teachers in the middle of the school year. But the new statewide tests that will be given next spring place heavy emphasis on reading comprehension and District 96 officials, like school officials statewide, are concerned about how students will perform on the new tests, which will be based on the new Common Core state standards.

The school board also authorized the hiring of three additional mid-day assistants. These new employees will be used to provide additional adult supervision in lunch rooms and at recess at Ames and Central Schools. Two of the assistants will be placed at Central School. They will work from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., will be paid $12.40 an hour and will receive no benefits.

The district is also looking to hire additional part-time paraprofessionals, because the because not all the paraprofessionals who worked at District 96 last year chose to return to their jobs this year after their positions were restored last summer.

Sharma-Lewis said that in the improving economy it has been difficult to find people to work as paraprofessionals. Under former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson, most paraprofessionals in District 96 were certified teachers. 

Teacher certification is not a current requirement, Sharma-Lewis said. Paraprofessionals can earn their own separate certification. A substitute teaching certificate, available to any college graduate, would also suffice, according to District 96 website.

Paraprofessionals in District 96 typically work with special education students or with students requiring more intensive help in their academic work. A paraprofessional with no experience is paid $17.68 an hour in District 96 while a parapro with five years’ experience is paid $21.03 an hour.

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