By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY â€” The Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) is planning a new school in Middlebury that would cater to local students who cannot thrive in traditional public school settings due to severe emotional and behavioral problems.
Counseling Service officials brought their CSAC school proposal to the Middlebury Zoning Board of Adjustment on Monday. They are seeking the boardâ€™s permission to establish the new school in 1,450 square feet of space in the Middlebury College-owned office building located off Route 7 South, across from the A&W Restaurant.
Robert Thorn, executive director of CSAC, said his agency would work with local middle and high schools to identify students who might benefit from the Counseling Service program. Those students, according to a CSAC project narrative, would have â€œsevere emotional disturbance and behavioral and emotional issues that prevent public school placement.â€?
Specifically, those enrollees â€” nine, to begin with â€” would have such problems as difficulty following instructions, dramatic mood swings, depression, and a tendency to act-out in class to the detriment of other students.
These are teens that the Addison Central, Addison Northeast and Addison Northwest supervisory unions must currently send to special needs schools in Chittenden or Rutland counties, explained Cheryl Huntley, director of youth and family services for CSAC. The Baird School in Burlington is one of the schools that currently receives local students with emotional and behavioral challenges. Sending districts must tuition and bus the students to such schools.
The financial and logistical challenges of sending local students to schools outside of the county has come up frequently at monthly meetings involving CSAC and public school officials, according Huntley.
Around a year ago, some of the public school officials suggested that CSAC establish its own school.
The idea quickly gained momentum.
â€œI think itâ€™s a great opportunity to collaborate with our school districts and keep Addison County kids in Addison County,â€? Huntley said.
With that in mind, Huntley and her colleagues began planning a school that would feature a 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. academic day.
Students would do traditional class work in the morning. Each studentâ€™s academic expectations would be mapped out in their independent education plan (IEP), which would be negotiated with their respective home schools. Enrollees would be able to earn credits toward high school graduation, as the goal for many of the students would be to re-integrate them into their public schools. Others would go on to vocational training or directly into the workforce, according to Huntley.
Each afternoon, students would get out of the classroom and do some hands-on learning throughout Addison County. With the help of local mentors, students would perform community service projects.
Huntley said the students would also have an opportunity to participate in the Lake Champlain Maritime Museumâ€™s boat-building program.
While being taught, students would have access to mental health services provided by CSAC staff.
Five people, including a director, a mental health clinician, and a teacher, would staff the school.
â€œPart of what weâ€™re hoping to do is teach them the social skills they need, along with how to manage their emotions, and to not be reactive,â€? Huntley said.
The ACSU, ANeSU and ANwSU are each expected to send three students to the new CSAC school this fall, when the program is scheduled to debut. Sending districts will pay tuition to the CSAC school, which will try to tap Medicaid and private insurance to cover some expenses.
Huntley contends the CSAC school will able to offer services â€œat a fairly significant savingsâ€? compared to what districts are currently paying to send children to out-of-county schools.
ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease said the CSAC school plan shows a lot of promise.
â€œThis is a similar approach to which I was accustomed when I was special education director at Washington Central Supervisory Union,â€? Sease said. â€œIt is a good strategy for coordinating state and federal money for purposes of programming for children. We experienced a great deal of success with our partnership with Washington County Mental Health .â€¦ However, it does not come about without growing pains.â€?
Thorn, too, is excited about the school proposal.
â€œItâ€™s a good match for our mission,â€? Thorn said.