First, a bit of background. About one year ago, FACE received seed money ($700,000) from the state of Florida to cover starting costs. Students at the school are eligible for partial tuition grants from a state government "school choice" program for children with disabilities. The school is pursuing a program based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which means staff seek to manage the behaviors of children to help them learn, to encourage positive behaviors that lead to growth and development and to discourage behaviors that are obstacles to learning.
In addition, the for-profit Educational Services of America, based in Nashville, is responsible for managing the nonprofit FACE school. With such a model, with a rising demand nationally for autism services and educational programs, it's no wonder that there has been a great deal of interest among Autism Bulletin readers in the school, and the specifics of how it's set up. What follows below is the full text of questions I had, plus those collected from readers, and the answers which the school administration sent on November 29 through Lovell Communications, Educational Services of America's public relations agency.
- What kind of training do teachers receive?
Our teachers receive specific, extensive training that begins before they enter the classroom and continues throughout the school year. Topics include Applied Behavior Analysis and specific methodologies for working with students with autism, such as discrete trial, structured teaching, social skill training and other tools to develop individual education and behavior support plans.
Our school calendar requires an additional 150 hours of formal training, which is supplemented by ongoing coaching and support from the clinical program director and from teachers who mentor their colleagues. Teachers are trained to conduct individual assessments, write lesson plans and collect and analyze data so they can make objective determinations about whether a student is advancing academically, behaviorally and socially. In addition, teachers are required to obtain an Autism Endorsement from an accredited university.
- What kind of training do one-on-one aides receive?
We staff classrooms to provide the greatest amount of support to promote students’ independence, enhance generalization and encourage relationships with their peers and, therefore, we do not provide one-on-one aides. However, all aides receive the same extensive, specific training the teachers receive.
- What direct supervision do teachers and aides receive -- how often, how much time per week and from whom?
Teachers and aides receive a high degree of support and supervision. Several teachers serve as mentors to their colleagues and the mentors hold weekly supervision meetings with classroom teachers to provide ongoing training, support and guidance. The clinical program director meets with each mentor teacher weekly. And the clinical director/behavior specialist and school director review each teacher’s weekly lesson plan. Assistants receive formal supervision from the classroom teachers once a week and on-the-job coaching, support and training all day every day.
- What kind of certification of education and training do you require of staff?
Our teachers are required to meet all state standards plus the standards of the Florida Autism Center of Excellence. Our school calendar requires an additional 150 hours of formal training, which is supplemented by ongoing coaching and support every day. In addition, teachers are required to obtain an Autism Endorsement from an accredited university.
- How many staff members have advanced training in applied behavior analysis (ABA)?
- Who is responsible for individual behavior plans for students? If an aide has a problem, where does she go for help?
The teacher, the mentor teacher and the clinical program director work collaboratively to develop students’ individual positive behavior intervention plans. If an aide has a problem, he or she goes first to the classroom teacher, then to the mentor teacher, then to the program director.
- How often does your staff visit with students at home to generalize lessons from school, and work on home-based skills?
Our mission is to educate students in a school environment. Therefore, our staff does not go to students’ homes – rather, we communicate with every parent every day and we invite parents to schedule visits to FACE. In addition, we will soon offer parents additional support they can use at home. Our plan called for us to open FACE in Fall 2007 and offer parent and family initiatives such as training, support groups and a parent-teacher association in Spring 2008 – and we’re on track to do that.
- What kind of training and education do supervisors have?
One supervisor has a bachelor’s degree in special education, a master’s degree in ABA and sat for the certification exam in November. Another has a bachelor’s degree in business management, a master’s in education and is working toward a doctoral degree in educational leadership. Our lead teachers each have bachelor’s degrees in psychology and seven years of experience working with children with autism. One of our lead teachers has a certification in Exceptional Student Education for students in grades K-12. The executive director of FACE has a bachelor’s degree in social science, a master’s in mental health counseling and is completing a doctoral program in adolescent counseling. He is a board-certified professional counselor and a licensed mental health counselor whose specialty is children and adolescents.
- How many board certified behavior analysts does FACE employ on site?
ESA has three board-certified behavior analysts, including two who provide direct, ongoing support to FACE and are frequently on campus. The clinical program director, whose office is on campus, has a master’s degree in ABA and sat for the certification exam this month.
- What is the student-teacher ratio?
We individualize our curriculum and behavior intervention plans for each student, so our student-teacher ratio is based on students’ needs. There is one teacher and one aide for every eight children at the FACE Dale Mabry campus, whose students require more intensive interventions. There is one teacher and one aide for every 15 students at the FACE Chelsea campus, whose students require less intensive interventions.
- How many students have a one-on-one aide, compared to the total enrollment?
We staff classrooms to provide the greatest amount of support to promote independence, enhance generalization and encourage relationships with peers and, therefore, we do not have one-on-one aides.
- The autism spectrum can present as a broad array of needs, from severe communications challenges, to highly verbal children who have a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. Do you serve them all? How?
Our mission is to provide a continuum of education and behavioral services to students anywhere on the spectrum. We do this by providing individualized curriculum and behavior intervention plans to meet the specific needs of each student. Students at our Dale Mabry campus require more intensive interventions; students at our Chelsea campus require less intensive interventions. Class sizes are small and students are grouped by according to their age and then by their level of ability. Our small class size, low student-teacher ratio, highly individualized instruction and two campuses enable us to serve students no matter where they are on the spectrum.
- What kind of parent training do you offer? What do you do to help parents learn about ABA?
We will begin offering parents structured training and support soon. Since FACE opened in the Fall of 2007, we have worked closely with our parents and shared our methodologies and philosophies with them. Our plan called for us to open FACE in Fall 2007 and offer parent and family initiatives such as training, and network and support groups in Spring 2008 – and we’re on track to do that. We can help parents learn about many aspects of ABA, such as positive behavior management, that will help parents and students in their daily lives at home.
- What other services are available for families from the school?
FACE has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa, in part due to a federal grant to establish after school programs for children with special needs. The goal is to provide a comprehensive after school program integrating children at all levels of functioning with a comprehensive academic, social and physical program model. As part of the program, FACE students are teamed with typically developing students from other schools who serve as mentors one day a week. This provides FACE students an opportunity to interact and develop friendships with students who attend other schools.
- Do you offer any social worker support from the school?
Through our partnership with the Hillsborough County School District, every student and family has access to social work support.
- What do you say to those who are skeptical that a for-profit parent company can run an effective non-profit organization like FACE? How do you balance the need to maximize revenues, minimize costs and still provide a quality program?
Our mission is to help students with special needs develop academic, behavioral and social skills that will enable them to lead more independent lives. Being a for-profit organization allows us to do this effectively, efficiently and with a high level of quality. Organizations, whether they are non-profit or for-profit, have many of the same fiscal realities – they have income and they have expenses. But there are some important differences. Because we do not have to raise money through charitable donations, we have the resources to focus strictly on helping children. We also feel tremendous accountability. We remain in business because our programs are successful and our families are happy with the results their children achieve.
As always, you are welcome to leave comments about this exchange with the FACE school. No doubt the FACE administration will see them. In addition, I want to publicly thank the school's administrators for participating in this Q&A.
For more background, also see from Autism Bulletin's archives:
New Florida Autism Charter School Opens in Tampa
Florida Awards $700,000 Grant to Start Tampa Autism Center
Autism Schools Map Project