Killingly unveils new special education program

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Aug. 26, 2013
Assistant Director of Pupil Services Fran Lagace and NRICS Program Coordinator at an open house on Aug. 22. Photo by D. Coffey.
Assistant Director of Pupil Services Fran Lagace and NRICS Program Coordinator at an open house on Aug. 22. Photo by D. Coffey.

The town of Killingly unveiled its new special education outplacement program at an open house on Aug. 22. Director of Pupil Services Bonnie Brouwer and Assistant Director Francis Lagace were on hand to discuss the changes being made, give tours of the Westfield Avenue building and answer any questions that parents or students had.

The open house was split into four informational sessions in order to address concerns from parents of elementary, middle, high school and transitional students.

The program is the only one of its kind in the state, according to Lagace. It brings in Northeastern Rhode Island Community Services, Inc., to staff and run the program. NRICS Program Coordinator Timothy Tokarski said the arrangement will bring 26 staff members to the old high school on Westfield Avenue. Those staff members will include teachers, social workers, clinicians, a full-time nurse and a psychiatrist.

There are 43 students currently signed up to participate. The building has the capacity to accommodate 58 students. “This is just like EASTCONN or Natchaug,” Lagace said. “NRICS is running the outplacement program, but they are using our building.”

That old building has presented a few challenges in terms of sprucing up before students arrive. A targeted opening date of Sept. 3 will most likely be pushed back to accommodate cleaning efforts, as well as the efforts of NRICS staff to prepare individual plans for an onslaught of students.

NRICS Program Coordinator Timothy Tokarski said his staff would spend as much time as necessary to get to know the students. “We want the staff to get to know the child,” Tokarski said. “That's my biggest concern. This is still an individual process.”

Lagace said Killingly staff will work closely with NRICS to guarantee a seamless transition for the students. “This is a symbiotic relationship,” he said. “We are very involved in supporting them.”

Two classrooms will be set up at each level. Children who act out for a variety of reasons can be moved to a separate classroom where they won't disrupt other students. Or children with anxiety or stress issues might need to be in a calmer space. The extra classrooms will give teachers that opportunity to separate kids and de-escalate the behaviors. “We found that we had the same philosophy,” said Lagace of NRICS.

“They've welcomed us with open arms,” Tokarski said. “We've gotten all the support we need.” For his part, Tokarski promises to have an open door policy. “We do well at maintaining communication with parents,” he said. “We get the family as involved as possible. And we take away the stigma of phone calls.” His staff make biweekly calls to parents to report on student progress. “We check in regularly about the good things going on,” he said. 

Killingly Superintendent Kevin Farr hopes the outplacement program will be able to save the town money. Last year voters had to approve an additional $1.4 million for tuition outplacement costs. That move has put the town in jeopardy of running afoul of the state's minimum education budget requirement. That extra $1.4 million bumped education costs up over its 2013 budget. In Connecticut, a town cannot spend less than it did the year before on education. Killingly may be faced with a fine of $2 for every $1 under budget it goes if the issue isn't resolved before June 2014.

According to Farr, the program could potentially save the town $2 million. And there is the possibility that Killingly might be able to eventually offer the services to neighboring towns.

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