Accelify Blog

Special Education School in Fall River Now in State’s Hands (MA)

June 21, 2010

A proposal to educate middle-schoolers with special education needs inside the district is now in the hands of the state.

Lawrence Finnerty, project manager for the in-district day school proposal, said the school department’s proposal was on the way to the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education on Friday. He said it would likely take five to six weeks before a provisional approval could be granted.

As the state begins reviewing initial details of the program, Finnerty said the district is nearing a decision on a principal for the school after conducting interviews Monday. After a principal is chosen, Finnerty said decisions on t he school’s teaching staff will be made.

“We have agreed with the Department of Education to send the rest of the criteria up as we get it available,” Finnerty said.

The proposed school, which received the unanimous support of the School Committee Monday, would serve 24 students in Grades 6 through 8 and be housed in the former Stone School on Globe Street. Finnerty said bids to paint the school are being finalized, and rugs in the school will be replaced once painting is complete — all with an eye toward opening the school in September.

As proposed, the school would be staffed by teachers from the school district, while the therapeutic component would be provided through a combination of school department employees and Walker Therapeutic, which offers consulting services and runs a K-8 school in Needham.

Finnerty said the two parties will each provide a behaviorist and clinician, with a goal to phase out Walker’s staff after the first year. He said the firm may still provide professional development after the initial year.

Finnerty said the therapeutic component of the school is a “critical aspect of
the program” in getting students to buy into the services. Without it, Finnerty said students will challenge authority.

“They are experts at helping the district get programs like this started,” Finnerty said.  
Finnerty, a New Bedford School Committee member and former administrator in that city’s school department, has said students will be provided with a rigorous curriculum that will keep students “actively engaged in instruction” rather than simply completing busywork. A full array of cocurricular classes such as art and physical education will be provided, and stud ents will also be exposed to computer classes and career exploration programs.

The new school would give the district the ability to continue in-district services for special education students through middle school. Similar services are currently offered at the elementary level through a program housed in the Boys and Girls Club. Finnerty said families with students in the elementary program have expressed interest in the new offering.

“We did get some calls and have done evaluations with the kids in the fifth grade (at that program),” Finnerty said. “We have offered it to them and we have gotten a good response.”

The initial cost of the program is estimated at approximately $815,000, with the bulk of those costs related to personnel. Funding for the start-up will be provided through stimulus funds. The cost of running the program may also be offset through savings coming from not paying tuition expenses to out-of-district institutions.