Region's first recovery high school is planned in Worcester
WORCESTER — With $2.25 million in state backing, a special education collaborative will soon open a Recovery High School for students struggling with substance abuse and addiction. The school would be the first of its kind in Central Massachusetts. Webster school Superintendent Barbara Malkas announced the new option for students at a meeting of the Webster School Committee Tuesday night. "Students who are in these programs have a much higher level of success, not only with their recovery efforts but also with obtaining their high school diploma," she said. The Central Massachusetts Special Education Collaborative in Worcester received word from the state Bureau of Substance Abuse Services that its proposal to open the region's first recovery school was approved. The state will reimburse the collaborative up to $250,000 now through June 30 and up to $500,000 per year for the next five years. "The goal is to provide a safe and substance-free educational environment that not only supports adolescents in their commitment to overcome their struggles with addiction, but doing so within the framework of an education setting that promotes high academic standards," said Mary Baker, executive director of CMSEC. While Webster and Worcester public schools are members of the collaborative, the recovery school, located in Worcester, will be open to all students in Central Massachusetts. "This opiate epidemic knows no boundaries, demographically or otherwise," Ms. Baker said. "Referrals can come from all over — drug and alcohol treatment centers, schools or parents." At the Webster School Committee meeting, committee member David Hurton said the new option is especially valuable for Webster. "Unfortunately, we do have quite a significant portion of our students that struggle tremendously, whether it's addiction or a difficult home life," he said. Regarding the number of students who might attend from Webster, Ms. Malkas couldn't say. "It is not for all students who are drug-addicted. I don't want people to think of it as a recovery program where that is the sole focus of the work there. It is truly a high school with academic requirements. It also has a component that supports students through counseling services and group sessions for their recovery efforts," said Ms. Malkas, who is a member of the CMSEC board of directors. Of the four established recovery schools in the state, three are in Eastern Massachusetts and one is in Springfield, Ms. Malkas said. Ms. Baker said the need for a school in Worcester County was recognized but the funding wasn't available until last year. Presently, she said, the collaborative is working to hire a school principal/director. The plan is to open its doors this fall and enroll up to 50 students by the end of the year. The location, she said, will be announced at a later date. Worcester public schools Superintendent Melinda Boone, a member of the CMSEC board of directors, could not be reached for comment. The CMSEC was founded in 1975 by the Webster and Worcester public schools to provide specialized education programs and services to students ages 5 through 22. Its programs include the Central Mass Academy, Hartwell Learning Center and the Woodward Day School.