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Officials eye Stark House in Manchester as alternative education center

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 23. 2013 9:35PM

MANCHESTER — City officials believe a new education center for troubled youth could open in time to assist students in the coming school year.

Mayor Ted Gatsas says state officials are interested in a proposal he has floated in recent weeks, where they would lease the Stark House on North River Road to the city to establish an alternative education center.

“The plan would be to lease it for $1 a year, for three years,” said Gatsas. “We’ve been talking it through for a few months now, but the idea really goes back a few years. The conversations I’ve had with people on it so far have been positive, but there nothing concrete, nothing on paper yet. I’d say it’s still in the formulative stages.”

Gatsas said if the plan is approved, he hopes the center could be ready to open in the fall. The center would help students who formerly received assistance through the Children in Need of Services, or CHINS, program. CHINS served about 1,000 kids a year, but due to reduced funding now handles only the most serious cases, such as children with severe and diagnosed mental illnesses or other issues. About 50 children a year currently receive CHINS services.

“It’s something I’ve been looking to do for a while now, but it really picked up when the CHINS program was eliminated,” said Gatsas. “A few ideas have been thrown around before, but then we had to start asking, ‘what do we do with these kids now? We have to do something.’”

Outgoing Manchester schools Superintendent Thomas Brennan said he backs the idea.

“The space is ideal from my perspective,” said Brennan. “There is enough room there for classrooms, and a utility area where you could hold organized activities. I think the site really lends itself to being able to zero in on an individuals needs.”

Gatsas said incoming schools Superintendent Debra Livingston has been briefed on the idea, along with other school officials.

“The feedback I’ve had has been good,” said Brennan. “Usually with a proposal like this, the issue is getting the building. With this, we need to get the programming and staff ready. But I think a target opening in the fall is a realistic goal.”

Gatsas said information on the proposal wasn’t submitted in time to be included on the agenda for the next meeting of the Executive Council. Brennan said he will complete paperwork and leave the information with Livingston for discussion at the Council’s meeting in mid-July.

“I’m all for this idea,” said Brennan. “I’d rather see these kids in a program like this, than in-school suspension. A program like this can get to the root of the issues that are bothering these individuals.

“We tried to do something like this when I was at Kearsarge,” added Brennan. “We wanted to get three districts together and set up a charter school similar to this, but we couldn’t get the funding in place.”

Brennan said the idea would be to have between 25 and 30 kids in the program the first year. Staff would develop an education plan for each student, and work with them towards a goal of having them return to the school system.“When they do return, I would like to see someone monitor their progress,” said Brennan.

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