Special-needs school staffed, ready to open

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 20, 2007

SUFFOLK—A new school for special-needs students in southwestern Tidewater is set to open in Suffolk next month.

Nansemond River Academy will serve Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight and Southampton and is striving for an average enrollment of 20 this year, according to Larry Cummins, educational director for the school.

Cummins said this week he has hired all of the staff that will be needed to open the school, including five teaching positions. After reports earlier this year about the school, he said, he was able to fill those jobs without even advertising.

Workers are putting finishing touches on the building in advance of an Aug. 24 open house. The school is located at 707 Giddings St. in Suffolk, about a mile from the Route 58 bypass.

Cummins said the academy already has received some student referrals from the Isle of Wight County school system. He also hopes to get referrals from other systems that currently handle their special education students through in-house programs or under contract with the Southeast Cooperative Education Program, a regional public school that serves about 1,500 students from all of Hampton Roads.

The new school will serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade, from 5 to 15 years of age. Classes will be divided into three levels: kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grades and sixth through eighth grades.

With five to eight students per class, there will be plenty of opportunities for one-on-one attention, he said. That attention could help students move out of special education and back into the general school population, he said.

Students can be referred to the academy by their public school systems or they can be enrolled directly by their parents. In the case of school referrals, Cummins said, tuition would be paid by the home school division, and then reimbursed by the state. Parents who directly enroll their children without a referral would be responsible for the $18,000 tuition fee on their own.

Designed especially for students with learning and attention disorders, those dealing with autism spectrum disorders and students with mild to moderate mental retardation, the academy will seek &uot;to find the key to every child’s potential and then let them soar to great heights,&uot; according to information on its Web site.

The school will focus on academics, rather than behavior modification.

&uot;We believe if you focus on academics and you give students some success,&uot; they will tend to improve their own behavior and sooner become ready for reintegration into general school populations, Cummins said when he presented the school’s plan in the spring.

&uot;We are providing an alternative educational setting,&uot; he said. &uot;We are not providing a behavior modification program, we are providing academics.&uot;

For more information, contact Cummins at 408-2280 or look for the school’s Web site at www.nansemondriveracademy.org.