New London school system sees High Road program as a plus

New London - With the genesis of a program for students with behavioral issues or emotional disabilities, the New London school system says it has a foundation for bringing "outplaced" students back to the district and eventually saving some money.

The High Road program, which launched at the start of this school year, serves 18 students in two classrooms - one for students in grades six through eight and another for grades nine through 12 - at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School.

Specialized Education Services Inc. (SESI), a for-profit special and alternative education provider that operates more than 55 schools in 11 states, runs the High Road program in New London as well as others in Norwalk, Wallingford and Hartford.

"We serve students that have not been successful in a general education setting," said Brooke Violante, chief administrator of High Road programs in Connecticut. "These students have demonstrated a need for a more structured setting coupled with a therapeutic milieu and additional academic and therapeutic support."

The classrooms use a rotation model, in which the students move from workstation to workstation around the classroom every 20 minutes. At one station, a student might work with the teacher on a lesson and at the next work independently on a computer-based tutorial session, Violante said.

"That change during the day, every 20 minutes, kind of releases them from the monotony you often see with students," she said. "That's when you lose their attention, and they're not actually learning."

The program utilizes two teachers, two teacher's assistants, a social worker and five other faculty members. The staff is employed by High Road, not the New London school system.

Now that the High Road program is in place, New London school officials plan to move it to Harbor School on Montauk Avenue, which will allow them to expand the number of students the program serves and find cost savings by enrolling students from other cities or towns.

"Our notion is to have our own students there, plus to bring in students from out of district, which will help us cover the costs," Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer said in announcing the move last month. "This is a great opportunity for us to bring students closer to home, but obviously there are real financial benefits as well."

Before the program can move, Harbor School, which has been vacant since June 30, needs to be renovated. The renovations have not yet begun but are expected to be completed by November and will be paid for by the High Road program, Fischer said.

High Road and New London's school system came together in February, when Fischer and Director of Student Services Miriam Taylor asked SESI to conduct an assessment of the existing program.

"High Road came to New London basically to provide some assistance as partners with the program we had," Taylor said. "We were doing a lot with our students, but we needed a more structured setting and a highly structured program to support the students."

Once the program does move to Harbor School, it can be expanded to include about 50 students from New London and surrounding communities, officials said.

"What I would like to see is that we open a K-12 program to support all students at all ages," Taylor said. "We have little ones that sometimes we have to send out of district because of behavior issues. My intention is to design a K-12 program to support all the students in district."

A student's participation in the High Road program is not permanent, Taylor said. The goal is for students eventually to be in the public school.

"Once they go to High Road, the idea is to support them and equip them with strategies and give them a way to come back to the mainstream and succeed, not just academically, but behaviorally, too," she said.

Further down the road, officials said, the district hopes to use Harbor School as a student services center for students with autism. It might also be used for those who have been expelled from another school.

In his report to the State Board of Education in September, special master Steven Adamowski noted a pressing need for the district to "develop and house high-quality programs for many special education students who are currently outplaced."

By the numbers

High Road program totals
18 students
2 classrooms
2 teachers
2 teacher's assistants
2 one-to-one aides
1 social worker
1 vocational coordinator
1 administrator
1 administrative assistant


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