MERIDEN — As Venture Academy’s newest supervisor, David Gollsneider wants to ensure all students are getting a rigorous education, which includes creative programming and support from staff.
A month into his new job, Gollsneider is developing plans for a Venture Academy mentorship program, looking into more vocational opportunities and establishing a positive behavior award system. Gollsneider replaced Mark Hedrick, who left the academy in mid-August for a special education administrative position in Plymouth. Gollsneider has spent his entire career working with special education students and is excited about his new opportunity.
“There’s nothing else I want to be doing,” Gollsneider said. “I fell in love with this population.”
Venture Academy is an alternative schools for students with emotional and behavioral needs. It is located on Paddock Avenue on the Rushford Center campus.
Sitting in his office Thursday morning, Gollsneider, 46, talked about his past career experiences.
The Killingly native who lives in Waterford with his wife and three children was motivated by a high school teacher, Neal Curland, to get into education. Curland had a powerful and positive influence on Gollsneider’s life.
“I tried to model myself in what I saw in him,” he said.
Gollsneider went on to major in education at the University of Connecticut. He worked at several schools and with children at all different grade levels. He spent a great deal of time working in programs for emotionally disturbed children. Sixteen years ago, he started working in Montville’s alternative high school, Palmer Academy. For 13 of the 16 years, he was “teacher in charge.” When the principal was away, Gollsneider said he ran the building.
In December, Gollsneider got his supervision certification and had no intentions of “sitting on it.” When the opportunity in Meriden came, he was quick to apply.
“I was driven to run a school,” Gollsneider said.
He interviewed with central office administration on a Monday and on the following Monday was in his office at Venture Academy as its newest supervisor.
“It was quick, but it was a smooth transition,” he said.
Assistant School Superintendent Thomas W. Giard III said when filling the position, the school system was looking for someone with who had experience working with students.
“It’s a tough job,” Giard said. “We needed someone who had a passion for alternative education, someone who really wanted to do it and take Venture Academy to the next level.”
Gollsneider conveyed his experiences well and proved himself capable for the position, Giard said.
Much was in place at the academy when Gollsneider arrived, but he said some of the initiatives needed some “fine tuning.”
With the help of Gollsneider and his staff, students on a regular basis participate in several positive support programs. One program awards students with a ticket when they show appropriate behaviors. Once a certain number of these are received, students can purchase items at the academy’s store.
A program called Students Who Achieve Greatness awards students who also do well. They get a green bracelet, which gives them hall pass privileges and trips to the Meriden YMCA.
Another ticket program, “I caught you doing something good,” awards students with a piece of cardboard. They write their name on the back and it goes into a raffle drawing. At the end of the day, a name is drawn and they receive a price.
About 70 percent of the students have bought into the raffle, Gollsneider said. Some students are knocking on his door at the end of the day asking about the drawing, while others can’t be bothered.
“It just means we haven’t formed that relationship yet,” Gollsneider said. “They don’t trust us yet, but we have to build that relationship.”
A new approach to discipline has also been developed. When students get an out of school suspension, they now get the chance to come into the academy after school hours for lessons and academics. Arrangements are made with parents. They get attendance credit and class credit for attending.
“Education is about building good relationships,” Gollsneider said. “We’re trying to send positive messages.”
Students still don’t attend the regular school day and they need to learn the behavior that got them the suspension is not tolerated. But it’s an opportunity for the student to learn something from the mistake, Gollsneider said, which is accomplished by a teacher discussing the situation with the child.
Other programs coming down the pipeline are a mentorship with students at Casimir Pulaski School, starting a CrossFit or workout program with the academy students and putting more vocational opportunities in place at school and throughout the community, Gollsneider said.
About 60 students are placed to the academy, and about 40 attend on a regular basis, Gollsneider said. The need for positive behavior encouragement and creative programming is because students did not succeed in the traditional high school setting. Such programming should have a positive correlation on student achievement and graduation rates.
“We’re finding ways so kids can be successful and continue on the right path,” Gollsneider said.
No parent wants their child to make bad choices, he said. We want them they to become productive and positive members of society, he said.
Gollsneider said he tells the same things to his children often. He wants them to grow up into happy adults who make the right choices.
“We are so fortunate to have David as the new supervisor of the Venture Academy. He brings expertise in working with this exceptional group of students, said Donna Mik, director of Pupil Personnel Programs, in an email. “David was hired two days before school and hit the ground running. I am impressed with his dedication and commitment to the students and staff at Venture. He is a great addition to the administrative staff and to Meriden.