2007-04-12 / Front Page

Autism program may lease Lawn Avenue School space

By Donna K. Drago

The Jamestown School Committee, at their April 5 meeting, heard a presentation from the director of Pathways, a division of the Trudeau Center, on possibly leasing space at the Lawn Avenue school for a classroom for up to six children with autism.

Andrea Chait, Ph.D., of Pathways said they were interested in establishing a satellite classroom, which would be the first of its kind for the agency, in the Lawn school. It would serve students ages 12 to 15 with autism. Chait said they would pay the Jamestown district $3,000 per student to use the room.

The Trudeau Center has been in Warwick for more than four decades and serves approximately 1,200 individuals with disabilities and their families throughout Rhode Island.

They employ a staff of more than 500 professionals ranging from qualified direct support professionals to specialized clinicians. The Pathways program serves children with autism in their Strategic Teaching Center.

Chait described the possible Jamestown classroom as having one lead teacher and one teacher assistant for every two students. In addition to individual instruction, Chait said they would get the students into the regular classrooms "as much as possible."

"This is an excellent setting, and you have the space," Chait said.

Special Education Director Beth Pinto said having Pathways on-site, "would provide the district with highly skilled people," in the field of teaching children with autism.

While the Melrose Avenue school currently has a program to teach students with autism, there is not currently a Jamestown-based program for older students.

"As they age, they are more challenging to deal with," Pinto explained.

Chait highlighted other possible cost benefits to the Jamestown district. She said there could be a transportation savings of up to $50,000 per year if an island student with autism were to be returned to the district to be educated, and there would be a reduction in consulting fees to the agency if the program was housed in Jamestown.

School board chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said the plan sounds like "a win-win situation."

Superintendent Robert Power said, "I recommend we do it for a year and see how it works for them and us."

The matter will be put on the agenda of the April 26 meeting.

In other business, the school panel:

+ Approved the retirement requests of three longtime teachers. They are Pat Cook, in grade 5; Susan Haskell, who teaches kindergarten, and Deborah Murphy, in grade 1.

+ Discussed briefly the two bids received by the district for food service providers. The food service sub-committee will review the bids at an April 17 meeting.

+ Learned that the final figure for the 2007-08 school budget is $11,277,000, after Blue Cross sent their annual premium figures. Business manager Maria Alfred said that the original budget estimated a 10- percent increase in health benefits, but the actual increase was 7-percent. The school panel voted to approve the new number.

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