NEWARK, N.J. — The approval of Newark’s Forest Hill Charter School by the New Jersey Department of Education earlier this week makes it one of 23 new charter schools and the state’s first devoted to students with autism or pervasive developmental delays.
"I don’t know if there are words to explain what a moment like this means," said Michele Adubato, founder of the Forest Hill Charter School. "It transcends education. This is truly a civil rights issue ... Children like this need specialized placement."
Adubato has 20 years of experience in the Newark school system and is currently executive director of The North Ward Center, a nonprofit community development organization serving Newark and Essex County. Among the five institutions in the system are the Center for Autism, which opened last year, and the Robert Treat Academy, a nationally recognized charter school.
She is the daughter of Stephen N. Adubato, New Jersey Democratic party power-broker and founder of the North Ward Center as well as Newark’s Robert Treat Academy Charter School.
The K-8 Forest Hill School is one of 10 new charter schools approved in Essex County — the most of any county in the state — and is set to open in September 2012, Adubato said. Initially, the school will enroll 50 students, with the intention of gradually increasing admissions up to a capacity of 100.
Rates of autism in both Newark and Essex County are lower than neighboring communities and lower than the state average, according to a 2007 report from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Adubato, however, believes there is an explanation.
"The problem with Newark is that if you look at other suburban areas, classificiation of autism is done much earlier in those communities," she said. "How can it be Newark classifies kids at such a late stage? What we know is that Newark has one of the lowest graduation rates in New Jersey and has tremendous challenges."
Eric Joice, executive director of Autism Family Services of New Jersey, agrees.
"We have had several years of an after-school program in Newark and parents talk of a tremendous need," said Joice. "Newark is our largest city and has unique challenges. We have a history in the city going back to 1988, and it indicates there is a real palpable need for this."
From her lifelong work in Newark, Adubato has no doubt the difference a charter school such as Forest Hill can make.
"I’ve heard from parents (with autistic children) my entire career," she said. "This is a watershed moment."
Saturday, January 22, 2011
The Star-Ledger. In the picture, Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Robert Treat Academy in Newark to announce the 23 new charter schools approved by the Department of Education.
Posted by BA Haller at 10:50 AM