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ACGC school could become the new home of alternative curriculum

COSMOS -- The Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District is moving ahead with plans to rent out classroom space at the district's elementary school in Cosmos for a regional alternative learning program for students with autism and behavioral disorders.

The district has been negotiating with the Southwest/West Central Minnesota Service Cooperative for the past year to house the two-part alternative education program in Cosmos.

Last week the ACGC School Board gave preliminary approval to take the process to the next step. Pending final action in the next month, the programs could move into the Cosmos school in June.

Both parties are pleased with the new partnership.

For ACGC, it will mean new revenue by renting out four unused classrooms in Cosmos.

"I'm excited about it," said board member Janelle Johnson.

"We've been looking for opportunities for our district for some time," said Chairwoman Judy Raske.

For the cooperative, it will mean having access to a "beautiful" building that's centrally located in the region, said Sarah Mittelstadt, supervisor of special education.

The cooperative currently leases space from the Glencoe-Silver Lake School District in Glencoe. Most of the students come from a 20-mile radius and include the districts of Glencoe-Silver Lake, Lester Prairie, McLeod West and Buffalo Lake-Hector.

But because the McLeod West School is closing and some of those students will be going to Glencoe-Silver Lake next year, there won't be enough space for the alternative programs there, said Mittelstadt.

Locating the program at ACGC South Elementary in Cosmos will provide a more central location that could appeal to school districts within a 35-mile radius, including ACGC, Willmar, New London-Spicer, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, BOLD, MACCRAY and Eden Valley-Watkins, she said.

"We get more efficient the bigger we get." she said.

The K-12 alternative program has two different areas.

One, called "Foundations," focuses on students with autism and severe disabilities. One of the goals of that program is to teach functional living skills to students.

One of the classrooms will be remodeled to include a studio apartment to help give high school students with autism a practical education.

The other program, called "Transitions," is for children with behavioral disorders. The goal of that program is to transition students back to mainstream classes by providing, in part, mental health support.

The program and the students will not be part of the ACGC School District, Mittelstadt said. "We are our own school district," she said.

The cooperative will provide its own teachers, paraprofessionals, secretarial support, phone and Internet service. Test scores from the students will not affect ACGC's adequate yearly progress status.

ACGC will provide four classrooms, custodial services, lunch program and shared gym space.

The cooperative will also look for community or school projects for autistic students to work on, like repetitive tasks such as paper shredding or collating, Mittelstadt said.

The program will operate on the regular school calendar, with the potential for some summer classes, depending on the needs of students.

Mittelstadt said she will be working with superintendents of area school districts and will be posting advertisements for jobs at the Cosmos program. At least eight full-time or part-time staff will be employed.

There are currently five students in the autism program and eight in the behavioral program. The program has the potential to accommodate more students, she said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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