One month after the Norbel School in Elkridge citing financial difficulties, a new school is opening nearby for students with alternative learning styles.
Compass Academy will begin its inaugural school year on Aug. 29 in the building that formerly housed the Ascension School (4301 Maple Ave.) in Halethorpe.
“Compass Academy is not being set up to be Norbel 2,” said Kristin Fleckenstein, executive director. “Norbel failed for a reason, and we as founders wanted to provide a school that could really take these kids to the next level and be more contemporary than Norbel had been.”
Fleckenstein, whose daughter Lucy enrolled in Norbel last fall, said, “It felt like the school was not reaching its full potential,” noting technology training and social skills as areas lacking.
In June 2011, Fleckenstein met with an educational leader in Anne Arundel County, where she lives, about opening a school for children with learning disabilities and social issues there.
“Then we got an announcement that Norbel was closing,” said Fleckenstein. “What was once ‘someday I’m going to’ turned into a ‘now I have to’ ... and the idea of opening a school in Anne Arundel County went out the window.”
Parents, who were told in an e-mail at the end of June of Norbel’s decision to shut down, had little time to regroup.
“Basically, Norbel’s president of the board of trustees and lawyer said, ‘Sorry—we’re closing. We realize we shouldn’t have told you this way but there’s not a whole lot we’re going to do,’” said Echo Reardanz, parent of two former Norbel students.
Through a Yahoo group for Norbel families, Fleckenstein put together a task force for a new school. “I’m an organizer,” she explained. Within an hour and a half of pitching the idea, she’d received 15 responses from people wanting to help.
With teamwork and a triumvirate of founders—Fleckenstein, a parent; Frank Pugliese, former admissions director at Norbel; and Craig Falk, former Norbel teacher—Compass Academy is set to open at the end of August.
So far, 25 students have enrolled. Two of them are Reardanz’s children, who have mixed sentiments about the new school.
“My son was devastated by the news of Norbel closing and is actually thrilled about the news of Compass Academy opening,” said Reardanz. Logan, a 15-year-old with attention deficit disorder and severe dyslexia, attended Norbel for nine years, said his mother.
“He’s been very positive about the whole thing. My daughter, on the other hand, who doesn’t take change well, is all over the map,” continued Reardanz. Daughter Heather, 12, has dyslexia and symptoms of Asperger’s, said her mother. “She’s a bit more hesitant about whether Compass is going to get together. She’s kind of worried that the rug is going to get pulled up from under her.”
The academy is filing for accreditation with the Maryland State Department of Education, which Fleckenstein said it hopes to have approved by late fall. Until then, New Life Church in Columbia, with which some of the former Norbel parents were affiliated, offered to sponsor the school for several months, said Reardanz.
“There is no aspect of any kind of religion in our education curriculum or in our daily routine for students,” said Fleckenstein. “However, to open as a legal school for the fall, while our application is pending with the Maryland State Department of Education, we have to open as a church-exempt school. That only means that we have a church that is allowing us to function under their wings in order to operate.”
At the school’s core is its mission, based on no principle other than individualized learning. “Each student has his or her own inner compass, and our job is to determine what works best for each student and then plot a course for success,” said Fleckenstein.
“I think we’re all very excited about Compass’ opening and hope that it will have a nice long life—unlike Norbel that was only around for 30 years or the Ascension School that lasted for 80 years,” said Reardanz. “We’re hoping to be around for a long time.”