NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - The Westchester Exceptional Children’s School in North Salem has been acquired by and merged with the Westchester School for Special Children.
The merger was confirmed last week by Leonard Spano, WSSC’s executive director. The organization has two schools in Yonkers and currently serves 250 students from the New York City area.
According to a press release Spano issued Friday, July 24, the new entity will have a combined enrollment of 320 and a work force of 240. WEC enrolled about 70 students.
“We couldn’t be happier and we are very excited about merging with WEC. This is a win-win for the children, staff and families of both programs,” he said.
WEC, located in a circa-1927 school building on Route 22 in Purdys, was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1970. WSSC was granted an absolute charter by the Board of Regents of the state Education Department in 1986.
Two years ago, the boards of trustees of WSSC and WEC petitioned the Board of Regents to merge under one name, the Westchester School for Special Children. The merger was approved Monday, July 13, and took effect immediately.
The schools provide special education services to students ages 5 to 21. These include speech and language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological counseling, nursing and adaptive physical education. They also offer case management and transition services to children and families.
Like all schools closed by the coronavirus pandemic this spring, WEC, now WSSC, is working on reopening plans. Meanwhile, its students have been engaging in distance learning.
The year-round special education day facility was founded in North Salem in 1969. It serves students with autism and multiple handicaps as well as those who are medically fragile. Its clientele comes from about 30 school districts in Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Ulster counties as well as Fairfield County in Connecticut, according to WEC board member John F. Caralyus, a volunteer at WEC for three decades.
Linda Zinn, WEC’s executive director, praises him for his dedication to both the well-being of students and the upkeep of the aging, historic building in which the school operates.
“The teachers, the administration, the board, they’re all very happy about the merger and are looking forward to a fantastic future for the former WEC,” Caralyus said Friday.
Zinn, too, is optimistic. She said the merger will help ensure the legacy of Linda Murphy, WEC’s founder, will be carried on. Murphy, who dedicated her life to the education of special needs children, died in 2011.
Zinn will now be an assistant executive director, along with Jay Tabasco of WSSC.
Spano, a retired police officer and former college professor, called WEC—which had already been a “sister school”—a “really good fit.”
“Unbelievably excited” about the move, Spano added that “it gives both of us the opportunity to grow.”
North Salem Town Supervisor Warren J. Lucas said Thursday, July 23, that he thought the merger would be good for both schools because together they will have more financial and administrative “flexibility.”
Caralyus agreed that being part of a larger entity could help WEC financially, at least as far as dealing with the state is concerned.
If a child with disabilities is unable to get the type of help or setting he or she needs, school districts contract with appropriate outside public, private or residential schools.
As a nonprofit, funding has always been a concern for WEC. The state sets tuition rates that school districts pay to WEC. Zinn said that rate changes from year to year.
Any other money comes through donations or fundraisers. Such support has helped fund improvements to WEC’s auditorium and the creation of a model living apartment where students can learn daily skills such as using a microwave and making a bed.
WEC also has a café staffed by job coaches and students, who also work outside the school, as well as a seasonal garden stand.
As to who approached who first about the merger, it was a mutual understanding.
“It made sense to them and it made sense to us,” Caralyus said.
For more information about WEC or WSSC, visit www.wecschool.org, or www.westchesterschool.org.