Alternative high school closing in Merrimack
MERRIMACK — The Brentwood School in Merrimack will not reopen this fall because of declining enrollment and inadequate funding to operate the facility.
Sixteen students at the alternative high school said their goodbyes on Tuesday, the final day of classes at the small red building on Brentwood Drive. The Brentwood School was serving about five different communities to provide individual and personalized education to students with emotional, social and academic challenges who were not thriving in a traditional high school setting.
“A lot of our kids are pretty distraught and broken hearted. There were a lot of tears today. Many of the students felt like this was home,” Principal Michael McMurray said Tuesday.
About five school districts were paying out-of-district tuition to send their students to The Brentwood School, according to McMurray. It is still unclear where the 16 children will attend school this fall, but McMurray said he is working with various school leaders to find alternatives for each of the students.
“There are other programs out there similar to us, but they are becoming few and far between,” he said.
Enrollment has been declining at The Brentwood School for the past five or six years, explained McMurray, adding the school once housed students from 14 different communities.
Because of declining enrollment, there have been decreased funds to finance daily operations and pay the staff of about 10 employees.
“There is a lot of sorrow and a lot of concern. This year was a rebuilding year for us with new staff who worked hard to try and change the culture of the school, which was a success,” said McMurray. “We were starting to really gain some traction, but we ran out of clock.”
McMurray praised his teaching staff for working until the final bell on Tuesday, saying the staff was committed to its students.
Southeastern Regional Education Service Center of Bedford, a New Hampshire educational consortium, currently owns The Brentwood School. Marge Chiafery, superintendent of the Merrimack School District, is also a member of the SERESC board of directors.
During a recent school board meeting in Merrimack, Chiafery said the SERESC board of directors has given its executive director, Richard LaSalle, the green light to submit a planning grant to determine the feasibility of possibly converting The Brentwood School into a public charter school.
According to Chiafery, the New Hampshire Department of Education is very interested in the idea, especially since the school is already set up and ready for educational opportunities.
“What kind of school is still to be determined,” said Chiafery, explaining if The Brentwood School became a public charter school, all of the districts comprising SERESC would become partners.
Andy Schneider, a member of the Merrimack School Board, said recently that the idea was floated to perhaps concentrate on middle school science, technology, engineering and mathematical studies at the proposed public charter school — if it becomes a reality.
“That really is part of a larger discussion,” McMurray said on Tuesday, adding his team’s primary focus has been getting through the school year and making sure all of the students’ needs were thoroughly addressed.
According to Schneider, The Brentwood School has been operating with a deficit for the past two years.