Thursday, May 19, 2005

NYC4A Open House Report

I promised an account of the open house for the NYCA charter school, and here it is. I did not ask staff from the charter school to fact check this report, so any errors are my own.

There were about fifty people at Tuesday's open house for the new autism charter school, so my plan to nag about outreach seemed less important and I took a pass on being argumentative. If half that many came in the evening, I think there will be a healthy pool of applications.

Their presentation involved a discussion of how the NYCACS came into being, by Ilene Lanier, who is the board president, followed by a discussion of educational methods and tactics by Caroline Ryan, the education director, who has/is a BCBA. The executive director, who is not an educator but rather an administrator and probably fundraiser (at least as far as I could tell) spoke about the admissions process. I did not catch his name.

The program will be straight ABA -- not verbal behavior, social stories, or other common methods. Related services will not be provided in school, and there will not be a sensory gym, OT room, or pull-out speech. Speech and OT activities may be part of a student's discrete trials program, or group activities. Families may seek RSA's for such services and obtain them outside school hours. School support for such RSA's with the CSE was somewhat vague though -- they will not oppose them, but seeking them will be based on speech, OT, or PT evals, and the school will have none of those types of professionals on staff. Any home ABA programmers that families use are welcome to attend team meetings for coordination of home and school programs.

Ultimately, they hope to run a school that will serve ages 5-21. But charters are issued for a period of 5 years, and in each classroom, at least in special education, it is possible to have an age range of up to 4 years. Thus the age range at for current admissions is 5-9 and the age served under the charter is 5-14 (or 9 + 5). In five years when the charter is up for renewal they will be seeking to serve 5-19, etc.

They discussed 4 levels on which there will be accountability in the program: their internal standards for staff performance, family feedback, independent consultation, and NY City and State government regulations. Students who are appropriate for the program will be eligible for the alternate assessment rather than standardized testing. What the criteria will be for charter renewal remained a little unclear to me, but I suspect it will involve showing student progress within the alternate assessment framework.

This year they will open school year with 4 students, and add eight more, one about every 5 weeks throughout the year. In year two they will add eight more for a total of 20, and in year 3 eight more for a total of 28. Not clear whether the year 2 and 3 admissions will be for September or rolling.

Location will be in a public elementary school somewhere in Manhattan. If anybody knows a public elementary school with room to spare this year and more space to give up in year 2 and 3, I'd like to hear about it. In any case, they can or will not identify the host school at this time.

Student selection for this year will be from the applications received by June 1, and qualifying applications require a medical diagnosis of autism or PDD-NOS, and an IEP with a placement or recommendation for segregated setting. A student who is now in an inclusion setting or has been recommended for one is not likely to be a candidate for this program. There will be sibling preference, as this is required for all charter schools. How exactly that will fit in the lottery framework was not detailed.

The ratings on the student profile will be used to rate qualified applicants as 1 (severe), 2 (severe - moderate) and 3 (moderate). A student with an overall rating of 4 is probably not an appropriate candidate for the program. That student profile will not be used for any instructional purposes -- it is meant only to divide the applicant pool into three subgroups so that the student body will have a range of functional levels and at least some peers for each student. So the odds of being selected will vary depending on the number of applicants in each sub-pool.

Precisely how the first 4 seats will be distributed among the three sub-pools was not clear to me, but a total of 4 will be chosen from each of the three sub-pools, and every qualified applicant (see criteria above) will get a notification of their lottery number by mail, sometime after July 1. Those with numbers 5 to 12 will also get an estimated date of admission. Those above the first 12 will be on a waiting list through the year. All those on the waiting list will need to re-apply for the following year.

Oddly, the application documents don't seem to be downloadable from the website anymore. Not cool. If you still need one, call them at 212-759-3775. Applications for the school lottery are currently being accepted and must be received by Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at the office of The New York Center for Autism Charter School, 214 E. 52nd Street, Third Floor, New York, New York 10022-6207.

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