PARMA, Ohio — After a slight construction delay, Parma City Schools’ new A.C.E.S. (Accept, Champion, Educate and Support) Center for Education is nearly finished.
The innovative program designed to better serve special education students — specifically children with autism — is located at Parma Senior High School.
“We’re about two weeks out from the actual facility, which is currently being finished,” said Robert Hoon, director of the district’s Office of Exceptional Students. “So we’re using a temporary space for right now, which we opened the last week. It was a fantastic first week back.
“The students have been completely engaged with our staff, teachers, assistants and related service providers. We’ve done a phenomenal job of getting them acclimated to the center.”
That acclimation included A.C.E.S. Center personnel recently providing families and students with a personalized virtual tour of the 3,400-square-foot facility. Formerly two large classrooms, the space has been repurposed into three classrooms, a sensory room, a conference room, a safe space, an office and ad hoc areas.
A.C.E.S. Center for Education will initially serve K-5 students who have a medical and educational primary diagnosis of autism. The program is designed to provide a highly individualized, therapeutic-based program.
“It’s not structured like a traditional school,” Hoon said. “This program was designed so we could meet the unique needs of these learners. They’re not having to necessarily rotate from class to class to class.
“It’s in an area that is completely removed from the other students at Parma Senior High. There’s a separate access point in and out of A.C.E.S. It’s very much unique and centralized around whatever it is their needs are at any given moment.”
Earlier this year, Parma City Schools appointed former Pleasant Valley Elementary School psychologist Caitlin Sabo as the A.C.E.S. Center for Education director.
“We’re so excited to open A.C.E.S.,” Superintendent Charles Smialek said. “This program started as a goal of ours in early 2019, and certainly followed a winding path to reach its actual launch.
“We’re so grateful to all of the work Ms. Sabo has developed for such a positive structure. We look forward to her continued leadership as we build A.C.E.S. into a true gem of our district offerings,” Smialek said.
The A.C.E.S. Center for Education is beginning with small steps, including eight K-5 students and two teachers. Hoon said that was by design, with the expectation of possibly adding more pupils this school year.
For the 2021-2022 school year, the facility plans to expand to serve middle school students (grades 6-8), with high school-age kids joining a year or two later.
“We have plenty of space to grow in the future,” Hoon said. “Ultimately, this program is going to be driven by student need, with its population ebbing and flowing.
“We’ve received a great deal of interest from other families in the greater area. We’ve also had some other families who have expressed an interest in moving into Parma City Schools so they can attend the program,” he said.
Parma City Schools currently has more than two dozen pupils with designated disabilities receiving their education outside the district. This is costing the district more than $2 million annually in tuition payments and transportation expenses.
Smialek previously told cleveland.com that the A.C.E.S. Center for Education will help reduce that expense; however, he said its purpose is to not only better serve students, but also have them and their families feel connected to the district.
“We realize it’s a leap of faith from our families to trust us with a brand-new program that’s in its infancy,” Hoon said. “We’re very cognizant of that trust they put in us, and we certainly appreciate that.
“We want to continue to be as open and transparent both with the families of the students, but also with our community.”
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