GREENFIELD — A new alternative special education facility is off to a good start, officials from Greenfield-Central School Corp. said.
Catamount Center, a facility designed to deliver students with exceptional special education needs the attention and care they require, has been open since the beginning of the school year and currently serves 12 district students.
Greenfield-Central spent about $375,000 on the facility after the district decided to split from the special education cooperative that had served students from all four county public school systems for decades.
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The center was built in a former church building on Wilson Street, just blocks from Greenfield-Central High School. The facility serves students in Grades 1 to 11 who need a quieter, more personal setting than a typical classroom environment can create.
Educators at the facility said the transition from the partnership with the Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services cooperative has gone smoothly.
“We’re really impressed with how things are going so far,” said Gail Everhart, one of two full-time special education teachers at the Catamount Center. “The students have transitioned well, and things have really just rolled right along.”
In announcing plans to split from the cooperative, Greenfield-Central administrators said they wanted a more direct say in the staffing decisions and programs for its special education program. Previously, all decisions had to be approved by the cooperative’s board.
“All of our students are different and come with a wide range of abilities,” said Christy Hilton, Greenfield-Central assistant superintendent. “Some are stronger with their academic abilities, some are stronger socially, and the Catamount Center really gives us a lot of flexibility to pick the setting that works best for each student.”
As part of the cooperative, the district sent students who didn’t thrive in the traditional classroom setting to an alternative school in Mt. Vernon. That made for a long bus ride, which meant lost instructional time for students, said David Walker, Greenfield-Central director of special education.
“Now, we’re able to make the most of every day and maximize the amount of time spent with our students,” he said.
The new facility has two main classroom spaces, one for elementary students and the other for middle and high school students. Those classrooms have computers for students to use. A gymnasium is available for exercise and recreation.
The Catamount Center has two full-time teachers and several behavior specialists who rotate in and out of the building as needed.
Students referred to the Catamount Center are placed at the school after a conference with administrators and parents. All of its students have individualized education plans, and their progress is tracked regularly through daily evaluations, which are sent home to parents.
Once staff members decide students are showing significant progress, they are able to transition back into traditional school settings, Everhart said.
When the district was part of the cooperative, part of the agreement was that officials from other school districts would send their students with special needs to facilities at Greenfield-Central schools. So when Greenfield-Central pulled out of the cooperative, school officials from Mt. Vernon and Southern Hancock schools had to overhaul several classrooms to make room for the students who now must attend classes in house.
Officials from Mt. Vernon spent about $150,000 during the summer to renovate a former high school band room into a special education room.
Steve Myer, Mt. Vernon director of special education, said the transition has gone smoothly, and the district is happy to serve its students in their home school now.
Rhonda Peterson, Southern Hancock curriculum director, said renovations totaling around $250,000 to make improvements to rooms at Brandywine Elementary School and New Palestine High School were complete in time for the beginning of the school year.
Though the shift from Southern Hancock’s prior arrangement with Greenfield-Central was a surprise for the district, Peterson said it’s turned out well.
“We made the best of it, and it ended up becoming a good shift for us,” she said. “It’s nice for us to reconnect with those students and families, and the district is really embracing the change. We’re happy to have our students back.”