Sunday April 15, 2012

NEW MARLBOROUGH -- After nearly 44 years in the Berkshires and 65 years in existence, the Kolburne School is closing.

The news, which came from the school’s board of directors, is forcing about four dozen students and 140 workers to find new places to go.

Kolburne will end its services on or around June 30, according to John DeAngelo, interim executive director and director of human resources.

"It was one of the most heart-wrenching things to communicate," DeAngelo told The Eagle this week.

He said that though the board has been ruminating the decision for a few months students, staff, parents and guardians, as well as social service agencies and partner schools, were notified two weeks ago.

No further public mention of the decision has been made. In fact the school’s website still indicates that Kolburne is hiring for instructors, an assistant teacher and registered nurses.

According to a spokesman from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Kolburne officially notified the department on March 29 that it plans to close on June 30.

"The reasons given to us were financial difficulties coupled with declining enrollments," said JC Considine, DESE director of board and media relations.

The private, for-profit school, also known as Kolburne Therapeutic Com munities, currently serves about 47 students, between the ages of 9 and 21 years old.

"At one point we had 130 students," said Robin Wein stein Mallory, president of the Kolburne School Board of Directors.

Her grandfather, Luma Kolburne, and his wife Stella established Kolburne School on July 6, 1947, on a 20-acre estate in Norwalk, Conn., with the help of their daughter Jeane Kolburne Weinstein.

In 1968, Jeane and her husband Sydney Weinstein, decided to move the school to New Marlborough, and build a program on what today encompasses 800 acres and includes an educational center with classrooms and indoor swimming pool, a residence hall, a remodeled barn as vocational center, and playgrounds, hiking trails and sports fields.

Over the years, Kolburne has offered 24/7 residential treatment facilities and special education programs, along with educators, staff and specialists, to youth with autism spectrum, trauma and trauma-related, neuro-developmental, pervasive developmental and/ or psychiatric disorders.

In December 2010, things began to change dramatically for the school, when it closed Caldwell House, a residential group home in Sheffield.

Sydney Weinstein passed away shortly thereafter in February 2011. On March 14, 2011, Jeane Weinstein retired as the school’s executive director after being involved in a variety of capacities for 63 years.

On March 28, 2011, Dr. Neil Berger, who joined Kolburne School in 2005 as clinical director, was named by the board as executive director.

The school re-branded itself as Kolburne Therapeutic Communities around this time, and in April announced two new year-round respite care programs designed to provide temporary residential, therapeutic care to special needs children on either a planned or emergency basis.

Also during this time, Robin Mallory and her brother, Jonathan Weinstein, formed the limited liability company Weinstein Realty Manage ment LLC, and took on responsibility of the school’s properties and mortgage agreements, becoming the sole stockholder of The Kolburne School Inc. An arrangement was made for Kolburne to lease property from Weinstein Realty Man agement LLC, on terms set to expire on June 30.

Meanwhile, in August 2011, Kolburne worked to progress as a school and received approval from the state to enhance its residential school program. This included a staff-to-student ratio of 1-to-3, new interventions and an autism curriculum, pre-vocational programming and more.

But during October 2011, Kolburne closed a second residential facility, Waldrum House, in Great Barrington. Berger left quietly in De cember, and Director of Hu man Resources John De Angelo was swiftly transitioned in as interim executive director.

"Right now, we don’t know what we’re going to do," said Mallory, when asked what will become of the hundreds of acres of property that will remain when the school operations shut down in a couple of months.

"Our main concern is helping students and staff. It’s been a family business. We all grew up with the school. It’s heart-wrenching because we’re letting go some of the staff who were there when I was a teenager," she said.

DeAngelo said that Kol burne is currently planning a job fair for the school’s staff in May, which will include potential employers as well as representatives from local and state agencies who provide transitional and unemployment services. A number of staff are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459, which is based in Springfield.

In the meantime, Kolburne will continue to operate its two remaining facilities: the 800-acre Woodruff Campus in New Marlborough and the 34-acre Brigham Center in Lee.

"The two most important things right now," said DeAngelo, "are for us to provide the smoothest transition possible for the children for their next placement, and to support our staff."

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink