Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

Canaan district closes, makes way for migrant kids


CANAAN–Finding new schools for its students next year is one goal of the Berkshire Union Free School District (BUFSD) as it prepares to dissolve at the end of June. The closure affects the schools run by the district–the Warren Street Street Academy for high school students in Hudson, and a junior/senior high school in Canaan. Both serve students who live in Columbia and neighboring counties.

The decision to dissolve the district came on the heels of the decision by the Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth to end its residential treatment program at the state Route 22 campus, whose participants live on the Berkshire Farm Center campus in Canaan. A significant portion of the special school district’s students are from the Berkshire Farm Center program, which was originated to serve them. Losing them “directly impacts our ability to function,” said Dan Kalbfleish, principal of the Warren Street Academy in an interview April 21.

The Farm Center’s residential facilities are slated to house student-age refugees. That story was reported January 16, 2020 in The Columbia Paper.

Berkshire Farm’s Residential Treatment program is primarily for boys ages 13 through 18 who have been assigned to live there, mainly by courts. Mr. Kalbfleish said the decision early this year to end the residential program was made because “residential enrollment in general has been declining throughout New York State over the last decade. The theory is that the support and funding is spent on the front end through prevention, probation and mental health counseling, to support the child and the family.” The Residential Treatment Center, he added, “is considered a higher level of care than group homes.”

The district has three programs: the Warren Street Academy; a special education day program in Canaan; and a junior/senior high school in Canaan, said Michael Vanyo, superintendent of the district in an April 29 interview. Some students at the Warren Street Academy or in the day program are officially registered with the public school districts where they live. All the students in the residential program attend the junior/senior high school at the Route 22 campus in Canaan.

The Warren Street Academy is for high school students who fall behind in amassing credits toward graduation in traditional high school settings. Also known as The Bridge, it opened in 2014. Currently, it has 53 students, including 16 seniors, Mr. Kalbfleish said. Those Warren Street Academy seniors who meet graduation requirements will receive diplomas from their home districts, he said.

The remaining students will be transferred to “other programs in the region,” said Mr. Kalbfleish. “This has been a joint effort to try to ensure the smoothest transition possible for these students.”

For all students in Berkshire Union Free School District programs, “We’ve been working behind the scenes with all the local school districts and Questar III BOCES,” Mr. Vanyo said.

Hudson City School District Superintendent Dr. Maria L. Suttmeier, whose district is home to some Berkshire Union students, said last month that Hudson is looking for “alternate options for our students at this point.”

Mr. Vanyo said the Berkshire Union district was committed to operate through the end of the school year. Three goals are: see Warren Street Academy seniors graduate; find students placement for next year; give the teachers time to look for new jobs. “We’ve tried to be very conscientious, we’ve tried to do the best we could for everybody,” he said. “It’s hard enough on the kids.”

The Berkshire Union Free School District was created by a special act of the New York State legislature initially to serve the residential students at the Berkshire Farm Center. Despite its origin and although the junior/senior high school shares a Canaan campus with the Farm Center, the district and the Berkshire Farm Center are separate organizations independent of each other. The Farm Center is a child welfare agency, the Berkshire Union Free School District is a special public school district, said Julie Brennan, vice president of development and marketing of the Farm Center.

Only the school district is closing. The Farm Center will end only its Residential Treatment Center while continuing its many other programs, including foster care, prevention, group homes, non-secure detention, and secure detention.

As for the future, Mr. Kalbfleish said he had accepted a position with Questar III BOCES as special education principal of the Catskill Academy.

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