By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors received several presentations at their Thursday work session pertaining to the educational side of the Edinburg School project.
Superintendent B. Keith Rowland described the mission of the facility, and how the county's students would benefit from it. Also in attendance was United Methodist Family Services Executive Director Greg Peters, along with several members of the organization. UMFS is the umbrella organization for Charterhouse School, the group that will run the Regional Day Treatment Program for students with special needs in the areas of autism and emotionally disturbed.
The facility will bring in students not just from Shenandoah County, but also from surrounding counties that wish to participate, like Rockingham and Page counties.
Rowland said that the current arrangement for the county's students who fall into the categories are traveling around three hours a day to another location, where they receive an average of three instructional hours. However, he explained that for a little less, Charterhouse will cut down on transportation costs for the county and give the students seven to eight hours of instructional time.
"This is a source of revenue for the county, not an expenditure," he said. Charterhouse would be the tenants for the Edinburg School, and if the plan goes accordingly, their rent would offset renovation costs.
County Administrator Doug Walker said the partnership would be a positive one for the county because it would maximize the productive use of the Edinburg School and keep it from becoming a vacant building.
"If not for this program, then what for," he asked the supervisors.
Peters informed the supervisors on how the Charterhouse works. He's been with the UMFS for 30 of its 112 years, and said it's a not-for-proit organization that is only connected to the Methodist Church through history.
The organization will offer students a facility in which they can focus energy to meet universal growth needs: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. At other campuses in the state, students experience traditions, celebrations and award ceremonies that are similar to those found in public schools.
The school focuses on building positive relationships between teachers and students, as employees have found that from those relationships, students stay interested in learning and have greater hope for the future.
Rowland compared Charterhouse's data with that of the Shenandoah County students who would be eligible for the program. For the 2012 SOLs, 57 percent of Charterhouse students passed at least one test, while the same was true for only 16 percent of the county's special needs students.
Additionally, 28 percent of Charterhouse students returned to public school this year after a 15 to 18 month stay at the facility, while none of Shenandoah County's special needs students return to the public school system.
"The goal is not to keep them with us; we want these students back in the local school system and community," Peters said. "We have this data because you need to be able to hold us accountable."
Supervisor David E. Ferguson asked Peters if he thought the county was failing its special needs students, in terms of having a better resource for them and not partnering with UMFS.
"We would not have come to Shenandoah County if we didn't think we could be successful," Peters said.