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Montessori School for Deaf now open in Pinellas County

By JANE MEINHARDT, Tampa Bay Business Journal
Published: November 7, 2003


CLEARWATER — The state’s only private Montessori school for the deaf has started its first session with just 10 students but plans to double that number next year.

The nonprofit Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf leases space and shares the library and other facilities at Annsworth Montessori Academy in the ICOT Center.

Builder Arthur Rutenberg is a trustee and provided seed money for the school’s inaugural year. Rutenberg is chief executive officer of Clearwater-based Arthur Rutenberg Homes Inc., which had 2002 revenue of $93.9 million.

Rutenberg’s wife, Jane, also is a trustee of the school. The Rutenbergs’ daughter, Julie, is a trustee and the school’s director.

Making dollars work
Blossom’s budget is about $500,000, said Janet Salem, school’s president. With two teachers and a full-time assistant, the school has a pupil-teacher ratio of 4 to 1.

Blossom is open to deaf and hard-of-hearing children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Siblings of deaf children and children with deaf parents also are eligible.

“We’re planning to offer sixth grade next year due to community demand,” Salem said. “We’re trying to respond to the need for individualized attention, with emphasis on communication.”

Tuition is $7,000. The school participates in the state-funded McKay Scholarship Program for children with disabilities.

Because of the training and equipment required, it costs $20,000 to $26,000 a year to educate a child who is deaf, Salem said.

Other than a state-funded school for the deaf in St. Augustine, there is no similar educational facility in Florida devoted specifically to these children, said Julie Church, executive director of the Deaf and Hearing Connection for Tampa Bay Inc. in Seminole.

The scarcity of such schools is related to money.

The normal expense of a private school and the costs associated with providing communication and other necessary services may make the concept cost-prohibitive, Church said.

“I hope Blossom starts a trend,” Church said. “I think other areas will look at this school as a model.”

Church’s son is in the fifth grade at Blossom. Having him spend his whole school day in “a deaf environment” is a definite advantage, she said.

Barbara Raimondo, director of public affairs for the American Society for Deaf Children, said there is a handful of similar schools around the country. Most are in states that have charter schools.

“Typically, education is a public endeavor,” she said. “But some families feel the need for specialized settings where children’s communication needs are met.”

Customized communication plans are developed for each Blossom student, Salem said. Blossom contracts with therapists and other professionals as needed.

Blossom also offers “parent school” for two hours every other week. This provides parents the sign language skills their children are learning and gives them a platform to discuss communication, she said.

The school plans to kick-off a fundraising campaign for scholarships next year and to construct its own facilities within several years.

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