Shortly after Norbel School in Elkridge closed in June, citing financial difficulties, many of the school's teachers, faculty and parents banded together to come up with a new school that, like Norbel, would serve children with learning disabilities.
They secured the property of the former Ascension School in
All it needed was a name.
"I was driving home thinking about compasses, how each kid has an inner compass and they need to learn to go in the right direction," said Kristin Fleckenstein, "and the name just came to me — Compass Academy."
Fleckenstein is executive director of the new school that she and others vowed to launch almost as soon as Norbel closed. The group secured the facility for the new school Aug. 1, and Compass Academy is set to begin classes Monday.
Even those who launched it are surprised at how quickly things have come together.
"It takes two years to accomplish this, and we've done it in two months," said Frank Pugliese, acting head of school. He said that Compass Academy has 26 students (23 of whom attended Norbel) and seven full-time faculty members, including a speech pathologist. It also has a social worker on staff.
Renting the facility, Pugliese said, "is probably the biggest thing, actually. We don't have to bring in so many children just to service our debt. Everything that we get after we pay the rent goes directly into our education and our program." He declined to say how much the school is paying for rent.
The school will serve grades one through 12. Tuition at the lower school (grades one through eight) costs $22,175; high school tuition is $23,875.
The school's information packet says that it is designed for students who, among other things, struggle with learning differences that hinder them in typical classroom settings. It is also for those aiming for high school diplomas who have difficulties with peer relationships, problem solving and general social skills because of Asperger's or attention-deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity.
The packet says that the school is not suited for students with a primary diagnosis of emotional or behavioral disorder.
Compass Academy had an open house Aug. 11. Faculty reported on Aug. 22, and the school planned its orientation Friday. The school calendar already includes a back-to-school night, a senior picture day and a professional day.
"From a grounds standpoint, the property is a lot smaller; Norbel was on eight beautiful acres," said Pugliese. "We have essentially a building and a parking lot. It's a newer building. The classrooms are easily 21/2 to three times larger. It's better maintained, and it's in a lot of ways more practical for teaching."
The school has a state-approved curriculum and an interpersonal skills curriculum that is a part of each student's daily activities, officials said. They added that Compass is also forming partnerships with other schools that serve children with similar learning disabilities.
Pugliese said that before choosing the former Ascension School site, the group had considered several area business parks but thought that modifications for such buildings would be too great a task.
"We didn't want something that seemed as if it was just slapped together as an emergency precaution," Pugliese said.
He said that Norbel School didn't have bus transportation but Compass' officials are considering it.
Despite securing the building on Aug. 1, Pugliese said he still didn't believe the group's efforts had come to fruition until he saw teachers reporting on Aug. 22.
"Even as I was moving furniture into the building, it still didn't feel real," he said. "But we were here in the morning and the teachers came in, [and] I finally said, 'Wow, we really pulled this off.'"