Saturday June 30, 2012

NEW MARLBOROUGH -- After nearly 65 years of offering special education programs, the Kolburne School officially closed its doors on Friday.

When the school made its announcement back in the early spring, the private, for-profit school, also known as Kolburne Therapeutic Communities, en rolled students between the ages of 9 and 21 years old and employed 140 people.

The school, a state-approved private residential special education program, notified the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on March 29 that it was planning to close, citing financial difficulties and declining enrollment. It filed June 30 as a targeted closing date.

According to state records, the school had 24 Mass achusetts and 24 New York students in attendance.

On Friday morning, The Eagle spoke with Kolburne’s interim executive director and director of human resources, John DeAngelo, who reported that the final two students were scheduled to depart the campus that afternoon, and all but a "skeleton staff" had been let go.

"All of our children have been relocated [to other programs] or been discharged home. Everyone will be or has been laid off," DeAngelo said.

Remaining staff will work to manage the school’s finances and grounds, whose fate is still to be determined.

Founded in Norwalk, Conn., Kolburne has had sites in the Berkshires for about 44 years.


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A DESE spokesman said that the state has been monitoring the school’s transition process since receiving notice of its intended closure, and then obtained updates on student transition plans, noting that "all students have been successfully discharged at this point."

Prior to its close, he said that the school held a job fair, in conjunction with a Rapid Response team from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development and 16 health and human services organizations from the Berkshire County and northwest Conn ecticut regions, for its soon-to-be-unemployed workers.

Also in mid-May, the school held a prom for its students and a student assembly to honor the students’ achievements and progress.

"We decided to continue business as usual, not only for the students but our staff as well," DeAngelo said.

Kolburne 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.

Compared to the four dozen students enrolled this spring, Robin Weinstein Mallory, president of the Kolburne School board of directors, previously told The Eagle that about 130 students were enrolled in the school at its peak.

Kolburne is among private residential school programs in Berkshire County and beyond that has experienced population reduction in recent years.

"From my perspective, it’s a pretty sad day," said Jerry Burke, president and CEO of Hillcrest Educational Centers Inc., despite being a competitor. "I have great respect for what they did."

Burke said that five or six kids were in the process of transferring from Kolburne to programs at Hillcrest, and that Hillcrest is taking on 10 to 15 former Kolburne staff members.

"Still, this represents a shrinking industry and a lot of people who put their heart and soul into their work are losing jobs," Burke said.

The Hillcrest leader noted that at its peak, Hillcrest served 175 young people, from children to adolescents and young adults. Currently, Hillcrest serves about 140 day and residential students, most of whom are of teen and young adult ages.

"Kids are coming to us later in life and for a shorter period of time," Burke said.

He said that over the last five to seven years, the estimated amount of services offered to support young people with special needs has tripled in this region. He said this is due, in part, to the philosophy that the best way to treat kids is by keeping them close to home; thus, many schools and other community agencies have begun offering services designed for students with special needs.

However Liisa Kelly, program director for Berkshire Meadows, a Housatonic-based residential program that serves a very high-needs group of people, said that the closing of Kolburne has had little impact on its program, both in terms of students and staff. She also said Berkshire Meadows, which currently has a range of individuals from age 7 to 50, has maintained a steady population, due to individuals’ specific needs for longer term care.