Ten New England private special education schools have been named Schools of Excellence for the 2015-2016 academic year by the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET).
Six Massachusetts schools, three in Connecticut and one from Vermont made the list, considered the highest honor a private special education school can achieve through the association.
Schools serving students between three to 21 years of age must be open a minimum of 10 months per year, have been operating for at least 10 years, among other eligibility criteria.
Students served include those diagnosed with autism, deaf-blindness, developmental delays, emotional disturbance, health impairments, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, orthopedic, hearing, visual or speech and language impairments or traumatic brain injury.
Named in Massachusetts were The Home for Little Wanderers at Longview Farm in Walpole and its Southeast Campus in Plymouth. The League School of Greater Boston in Walpole, The Crossroads School in Natick, The Riverview School in East Sandwich and the Willie Ross School for the Deaf, Inc. in Longmeadow also were selected.
Connecticut schools selected are the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Arch Bridge School in Bethlehem and Eagle Hill School in Greenwich. The Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont also made the list (see related story).
“New England does extremely well based on the value that it places on education,” said George Giuliani, Psy.D., who is co-executive director of NASET. He is a New York State licensed psychologist, certified school psychologist, and has an extensive private practice focusing on children with special needs.
Giuliani is an associate professor at Hofstra University’s School of Education and Allied Human Services and is director of the Special Education Program at Hofstra’s Graduate School.
Giuliani and the association’s other co-executive director, Roger Pierangelo, Ph.D., developed the Schools of Excellence list in 2008 after noting that special education schools were left out of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, which recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools for overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps.
Giuliani said NASET is looking to create a Schools of Excellence list for public schools in the future.
In all, 76 schools were selected as Schools of Excellence from 110 applications with many previous honorees being selected again. About 50 percent of first time applicants were accepted, NASET Operations Manager Richard Scott said.
The Home for Little Wanderers’ two campuses in Massachusetts made the list for the first time. The schools have a ratio of 10 students to 1 teacher to 1 assistant teacher. The Southeast Campus School on 53 acres in Plymouth offers year-round educational treatment programs for 35 to 40 youth aged seven to 18.
Staff has special expertise in trauma treatment and working with youth with Asperger’s and pervasive developmental disorders, said Senior Director of Education Services DaQuall Graham.
The 166-acre Longview Farm in Walpole serves about 80 students ages five to 18 and includes a newly-constructed 31,000-foot addition to the educational facility. “Everything is state of the art,” Graham said. “Brand new desks, smart boards for all children. We have a sensory room. A lot of schools do not have that.”
Graham said The Home for Little Wanderers has 100 percent participation in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) with 40 percent scoring high enough to qualify for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, which provides a tuition waiver for up to eight semesters of undergraduate education at a Massachusetts state college or university.
“A lot of people think of the school as just a residential program or just to help kids that may have been impacted by trauma, but we’re trying to get results academically in addition to the clinical results. That to me sticks out a lot as an educator,” Graham said.
The Career Development Program at Plymouth includes an entrepreneurial carpentry project in which students make Adirondack chairs and tables sold at local flea markets. Longview Farm offers a digital printing certificate program conducted in collaboration with Xerox where students can earn the credentials needed to work in print design at retailers like Staples or OfficeMax.
Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, Connecticut, made the list for the fourth consecutive year.
Located on the grounds of the 1905 estate of cereal magnate C.W. Post, Eagle Hill School has already raised $7.5 million of its $14 million goal in a capital campaign launched last year to renovate and expand its Griffin Academic Center, build a new 350-person capacity multipurpose room and renovate Hardwick House, one of the original estate buildings, which houses a number of smaller classrooms, the school dining rooms, kitchen facilities and residential areas.
The school has an enrollment of 255 students between ages six and 16 (70 percent boys and 30 percent girls) who generally stay for two to four years. The student teacher ratio ranges from 1:1 to 12:1.
“Being honored by NASET as a School of Excellence is a formal recognition of our highly skilled faculty and their dedication to finding how best to address the learning challenges of our students. They are the key ingredient to the success of our program,” said Eagle Hill’s Head of School Marjorie E. Castro, B.S., M.A., Ed.D.
“We are constantly reviewing the latest research on new teaching strategies that show promise for our students with complex, language-based learning disabilities. This is what makes our work so exciting and Eagle Hill such a special place, a place where I like to say small miracles happen every day.”
By Janine Weisman