School for learning disabled gets charter status
YOUNGSTOWN -- It all started 34 years ago in Mollie Kessler's living room.
It was 1968. Kessler and other mothers of children with learning problems regularly gathered at Kessler's Boardman house to talk about their kids' common struggles.
"These children were falling through the cracks of the public school system," she said.
For nearly three decades, she's been filling those cracks through the All Children Learn Differently Learning Center and School, a program for children and adults with learning disabilities housed in the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Youngstown.
"What we do, we do really well," Kessler said from the center Tuesday afternoon.
The State Board of Education seems to agree. On Tuesday, the board approved a contract that essentially allows the privately funded ACLD school to switch to a publicly funded charter school.
The new school will open in August and offer the same program as the current ACLD school, but now it will receive about $5,000 per pupil in public funds and won't charge pupils $3,150-a-year tuition.
Moving: The school also will move to the former John Booth Insurance Co. building on Wood Street, less than a block from the church. And it will get a new name: The Mollie Kessler School.
"It kind of took me by surprise," Kessler said about the name. "I have a hard time saying it out loud."
Charter schools are privately operated schools that get public funds.
The Kessler School will be the sixth charter school in Youngstown and the second dedicated to teaching children with learning problems. Summit Academy Youngstown opened last fall in Oakhill Renaissance Place for children with attention deficit disorder and other learning difficulties.
It also will be the second private school in the city that has converted to a charter school. Legacy Academy opened last fall after the private Calvary Christian Academy closed last summer.
Smallest: The new school also will be the smallest charter school in the city, with an enrollment not to exceed 60 to 65 pupils, said Erica Brown, ACLD director.
"A lot of [charter] schools in our community it seems today have taken on way too many kids, and they're not meeting their needs, so the school has problems, the kids have problems," Brown said. "We're never going to let that happen."
History: Kessler opened the ACLD Learning Center in 1973, and the program now annually provides tutoring, testing, counseling and other services to about 300 adults and children with dyslexia, ADD, mild autism and other learning disabilities.
In 1993, she added a full-time, private school for 40 children in grades two through eight. Children attending the school come from throughout the Mahoning Valley.
Brown said the learning center and school raised $350,000 to buy and renovate the new building on Wood Street. The state does not provide money for facilities for charter schools.
The learning center also will move to the new building but will remain a private tutoring service, she said.
"It's a dream come true," Kessler, who has a master's degree in special education, said Tuesday afternoon. "It's still hard for me to fathom."