Walcott downplays SESIS issues at first town hall of school year

A new special education data system isn’t as bad as its critics say, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told Bronx parents Tuesday night.

The chancellor acknowledged that the Special Education Student Information System was earning “mixed reactions” from educators, but he downplayed concerns that it was a “systemic” problem.

The web‐based system was created to track information about students with disabilities and is being rolled out this year, to massive complaints. Over the summer, SESIS was blamed for leaving some special needs students without school seats. Now, teachers are saying the system is extremely burdensome to use. As a compliance deadline approached last week, the union blasted the DOE for its “total incompetence” in managing the system rollout. In a separate email, UFT Secretary Michael Mendel called SESIS a “systemic problem that is affecting almost everyone who uses it in almost every school.”

Walcott voluntarily addressed those concerns and others last night at a meeting with District 7 parents in the Bronx. It was the first of many town hall‐style meetings that Walcott will host this year in accordance with a law that requires the chancellor to visit each of the city’s 33 districts in a two‐year period.

At this meeting, held at The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, Walcott answered questions about budget cuts, school closures, absent teacher reserve deployments, and class sizes. He brought SESIS up on his own.

“Obviously, with any new system, there’s going to be bumps along the way,” said Walcott.

He attributed UFT complaints to individual teachers who weren’t trained on how to use SESIS and said the DOE planned to conduct more in‐school training sessions.

“A lot of the concerns I heard sounded more individual than macro itself and systemwide type of concerns.”

Walcott also promoted the upcoming “Parents as Partners” week, which begins Oct. 24 and will include a special Panel Educational Policy meeting on Tuesday. The meeting will feature a presentation by David Coleman, who authored new common standards that the city is rolling out over the next several years.