Special-ed group ‘serving needs of the kids’
BILLERICA — As the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative restructures after alleged gross corruption two years ago, Secretary of Education Matthew Malone learned on Thursday how MSEC is changing things up.
But did MSEC pass the test?
After his visit to the Billerica facility, the state’s top education official showered MSEC with the highest of grades.
“They needed to clean up a mess that wasn’t their fault, so (Executive Director) Chris Scott came in and needed to totally reorganize, re-establishing relationships and programs and facilities,” Malone said. “And I think they’re doing it. She’s grabbed
Secretary of Education Matthew Malone visis the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative in Billerica on Thursday. He checks out Maggie King’s speech-generating computer technology with occupational therapist Alyson Melanson, right, and MSEC Executive Director Chris Scott. SUN/Rick Sobey
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the bull by the horns and is focused on the kids.
“She’s not focused on any of the nonsense that greedy people focused on before,” he added. “She’s focused on serving the needs of the kids.”
Two years after starting to sever ties with the Merrimack Education Center (MEC), in the wake of an explosive report that alleged then-Director John Barranco misused millions of taxpayer dollars, Scott showed Malone on Thursday how MSEC is making it a total separation from MEC.
The collaborative has been leasing six facilities from MEC, but that will change in June 2014 when MSEC will secure its own facilities, according to Scott. She said MSEC will condense from six facilities to three.
Scott, who joined MSEC 18 months ago after the scandal with Barranco, said all business operations have been separated from MEC; all that remains is the facilities’ leases, which expire in June 2014, she said.
MSEC currently has facilities spread out across Billerica, Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, Pepperell and Topsfield, but the plan is to condense the collaborative into Billerica, Tyngsboro and Dracut.
The current Billerica facility, at 40 Linnell Circle, would be MSEC’s high school/pre-vocational middle school; Dracut’s Parker Elementary School at 77 Parker Ave., would be MSEC’s middle school; and the current Tyngsboro facility, Lakeview Elementary School at 135 Coburn Road, would be MSEC’s elementary school.
Scott said they plan to buy the Billerica building and rent the two others from the Dracut and Tyngsboro school districts, respectively. MSEC is finalizing those transactions, she said. She called it a “work in progress,” as Dracut selectmen and School Committee members have sparred over the lease agreement.
While MSEC tried to acquire appropriate facilities for 500 students and 60 adults, MSEC decided to acquire facilities that would accommodate all the member districts’ students, about 200 students and 60 adults. Scott said there will be limited enrollment for the non-member districts.
Scott also talked to Malone about MSEC’s transitional services, which aims to prepare students for the real world. They participate in paid internships at retail stores, restaurants and mailrooms to figure out what they want to do in life. Some of the students move on to community college, such as Middlesex and North Shore Community Colleges.
“That’s what I want to hear more of,” Malone said. “The House and Senate are very serious about supporting more special-needs students onto our college campuses, and I’m excited to hear that they’re partnering with community colleges.
“We want these kids to be self-sufficient — that’s the gold standard,” he added. “The work that the collaboratives are doing across the state is exceptional. At the end of the day, they do the hardest work with the neediest and most important population.”
Malone also said he was impressed with the technology that allows an MSEC student communicate.
Maggie King, 20, of Chelmsford, has cerebral palsy and cannot speak, but her speech-generating computer system allows her to talk. King, MSEC’s Student of the Year, introduced Malone to MSEC on Thursday with her adaptive technology.
In addition, students told him about their play performances from the past few years. May’s performance of “Beauty and the Beast” marked the fifth year in a row that MSEC has brought a story with song to the stage. Tim Callahan, program director at MSEC, said the show is the event of the season.
Another student told Malone about MSEC’s field trip to Washington, D.C., where they visited the U.S. Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian museums and other attractions.
After the students and officials gave their presentation, Malone visited classrooms at 40 Linnell Circle. He left the students with a math joke: “What did the 0 say to the 8? Nice belt,” which drew plenty of laughter from the students.
“This really means a lot to the staff to see that such high-level people care about the reform we’re doing here and the work we’re doing for our students,” Scott said. “We couldn’t really ask for more.”
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