Mary Immaculate School closed its doors Wednesday, the end of more than 50 years working with special-needs students. Now, a former board chairman of the school hopes to carry on its mission, but as a public charter school.
Founded in 1960 by the Sisters of Notre Dame, the Catholic school on Secor Road announced this winter it would close at the end of the school year, citing increasing costs and declining enrollment. The kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school originally focused on developmentally disabled children, then broadened to serve students with other disabilities.
Daniel LaValley — a Sylvania-based lawyer who served about 15 years on the school’s board, six as its chairman — said dozens of families and staff members called him to urge him to do something. So he decided to start a charter school.
This fall, the Hope Learning Academy will open at the former home of the Hampton Park Christian Church of Toledo, 4234 Monroe St. The school still needs a Toledo special-use permit, but the state has approved its charter, school leaders have lined up a sponsor agency, and the school has a board assembled.
Though the school will not be Mary Immaculate, Mr. LaValley said the school will have a similar mission. It will try to keep class sizes small, and will cater to students with disabilities. The K-8 school will have no more than 10 students per class, he said.
“[We’ll be] modeling a lot of what we do off what Mary Immaculate did,” he said. “We are going to take the best practices of what Mary Immaculate did, and improve on them.”
Though Mr. LaValley said he hopes to hire some of Mary Immaculate’s staff, many of the teachers will be different, and he has hired that school’s former coordinating intervention specialist, Mellissa Hinton, as the academy’s principal. Mr. LaValley will serve as the school’s superintendent, though he said he will not take a salary.
Probably the biggest difference between Mary Immaculate and the Hope Learning Academy, besides different staff, is that the charter school will not be faith-based, since it is a public school. Mr. LaValley said the school will not include religious teachings.
The new school will join Autism Academy of Learning and the Autism Model School as Toledo charter schools that focus on students with special needs. Many special-needs students take alternative assessments rather than the Ohio Achievement Assessments.
Because of federal regulations that cap the percent of alternative tests at proficient or above a school can use for accountability measures, under most circumstances nearly all of Hope’s students would likely be scored below proficient. That would put the school in academic emergency, and after several years subject to state laws that could force its closing.
But state education officials said there are waivers available for schools that focus specifically on special-needs students.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.