Special Education Students to Get Vo-Tech School

It will be managed by the Somerset County Educational Services Commission off Finderne Avenue.

The Somerset County Educational Services Commission is moving forward with a plan to provide vocational opportunities for those at risk students who are normally placed out of district—and the partnership will be located in Bridgewater.

Just adjacent to its current facility off Finderne Avenue, the commission is looking to provide new services for students who are normally placed out of the districts throughout the county, including the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District.

The new operations, according to Bridgewater-Raritan board of education vice president Patrick Breslin, will focus on teaching grocery store jobs, warehousing and groundskeeping, among others.

And the facility, Breslin said, will include a partnership with the Raritan Valley Community College, the Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School and Shoprite, which will be operating a full grocery store out of the building.

“It will take a little more than a year until we have access, and then we might see the ability to do out-of-district placements closer to home,” he said. “This is good news.”

According to Harold Dunsavage, superintendent of the Somerset County Educational Services Commission, the school itself is for special education and other at-risk students. When the school moved into the building, he said, the vision was to keep expanding services for the 18 sending districts.

“When we purchased it, there was a warehouse next to it, and we wanted to convert it to a Vo-Tech for special education students,” he said. “I have been the voice of special education students during my 32 years in education, with alternative and special education my whole career. They have an opportunity to be as successful as regular education students.”

The funding for the new facility has been approved by the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and is expected to cost about $8 million, which will be paid through bonds that Dunsavage said the commission will have to pay back.

“We are selling bonds to pay back the money,” he said. “Tuition will hopefully be reduced when it is paid for.”

Basically, Dunsavage said, there are going to be three shops, the first being an actual Shoprite to teach supermarket skills.

Dunsavage said the school has partnered with Shoprite, and the store will be fully functioning with its own ID number and design, and it will be open to the public.

“Shoprite wants to employ these students, and will help us certify them,” he said. “They will get certification from Vo-Tech.”

Dunsavage said this program was actually a part of the Vo-Tech itself, but it was cut out of the program. In the new program, they will learn to stock shelves, work registers and unload trucks, among other work.

“Shoprite is invested in this because they want to hire employees,” he said.

The second section, Dunsavage said, will be warehousing and building and maintenance.

For example, Dunsavage said, students will have the opportunity to use forklifts, unload packages and do other work that is required in warehouses and for maintenance.

The last piece, Dunsavage said, is landscaping.

“These students are very good with their hands, and there is a need for landscapers working with companies,” he said.

In addition, Dunsavage said, the building will have a full gymnasium that can be rented out to the public.

The construction is expected to be finished in time for the 2014-2015 school year.

Dunsavage said they have formed a partnership with the Vo-Tech for three certified shop teachers, and he is also in talks with RVCC. In the latter partnership, he said, he is hoping to be able to have RVCC rent the facility to offer adult education classes in the evenings for those who don’t meet the criteria to enter the college fully.

“This is going to stir the economy, create jobs and provide services for special education students in the county and beyond,” he said. “This is a very exciting project.”

“With all the cuts in education, it is nice to build a program for these students,” he added.

At the end of the programs, which begin in ninth grade, students will receive a high school diploma and certification from the Vo-Tech that they are skilled in the specific area they studied.

“Right now we don’t offer anything like this, and I don’t know of anything that does except the Vo-Tech, and they only accept special education students on a case-by-case basis,” Dunsavage said. “This is for any student enrolled in our program.”

Dunsavage said he has been working toward implementing this kind of program for seven years, and is pleased with all the additional education it will bring.

“This is a very exciting project,” he said. “I am looking forward to working with all the administrators to make this program very successful.”

CCS News October 17, 2012 at 09:43 PM
This well-intentioned effort is another example of taxpayer money being spent on public segregated special education. $8M could be better spent creating the long term supports needed to serve students with disabilities within existing programs. The story indicates that the VoTech schools "only accept special education students on a case by case basis." That is the heart of the problem. Why not invest the $8M to create supports and services within the Vo-Tech programs, local high schools and other quality programs to serve these students in their own communities. Use the money to provide training, technical assistance and support to LOCAL teachers ¬ general education and special education ¬ to build capacity. Since 1996, the New Jersey Coalition for Special Education Funding Reform – a group of advocacy organizations representing tens of thousands of students- has urged the state to implement a moratorium on the establishment of ANY new public schools to be used primarily for students with disabilities. Taxpayer dollars are better spent improving and expanding local capacity, rather than building and financing new separate buildings. Shared services should be encouraged, but shared services must be just that: shared services – not new shared buildings, new shared administrations, or any other structure for shared services that would cause students to be bussed to regional centers in order to receive services.
Nancy Edwards October 18, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Hats off to Mr. Dunsavage for recognizing this very special need. As a parent of a special needs adult, I have seen the difference between providing services within an existing school and watching my daughter exceed tremendously once going to Midland School. A lot has to do with feeling accepted for "who you are". Around 4th grade...kids can become very mean. This does not occur at a special school. Everyone treats each other equally. Furthermore...Try finding a job for a very capable special needs adult in the economy we have today. The law only allows them to volunteer for 2 hours (job sampling) through supported work programs to prove themselves. More time could show the employer they are capable of handling a position. I clearly understand why these laws were created, but we may need to rethink how to better serve this population in today's economic world. Allow them to do an internship with the hope of employment. I think back to my involvement with Special Olympics. If you have never attended an event, it's a real lesson in compassion, acceptance, endurance and achievement. A lesson many people should experience. If the world was perfect, I would agree with the above writer. But it's not, and nobody wants to have to deal with being made fun of because they are not "perfect", just different. Keep up your vision! Looking forward to the college component!
Proud mom October 18, 2012 at 07:39 PM
In response to the first comment, the point of shared services is to save money. It would be more expensive to duplicate the teachers, space, programs, etc. within separate local districts. Shoprite will be operating a full grocery store out of the building. You could not offer that kind of program at RVCC, vo-tech or local high schools. I would think if you tried to implement this program elsewhere you would also need to add on to the buildings to accommodate it. I applaud Dunsavage for his innovative thinking and advocacy for special education students.
BwaterDad October 18, 2012 at 09:54 PM
For some special education students, the "regular school" setting is appropriate, and for some it is not. Plus, in Bridgewater, our high school is at capacity, so it's not like there is empty classroom space lying around to accommodate students currently educated out-of-district. This new facility seems like the best of all worlds: It's actually within our district, so the transportation costs are less, but it is a county-wide facility so there is economy from sharing of services. For students that cannot handle a 3,000-student high school (and there are some who, do to their disabilities, cannot), this seems like a good approach.
BwaterDad October 18, 2012 at 10:02 PM
In my last sentence, that should be "due", not "do." I hate it when I "due" that.


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