Penikese Island School Closes, For Now
By: Elise R. Hugus
The Penikese Island School has weathered a number of storms over its 38-year history, both financially and physically.
Now the latest round of state and federal budget cuts is forcing the school to suspend operations until the skies clear, said Executive Director Toby Lineaweaver.
Located 12 miles off Woods Hole, the Penikese Island School has operated as a private residential school for troubled boys since it was founded in 1973 by Woods Hole resident George Cadawalader.
Seen as an alternative to juvenile detention, the school gained a reputation for its intimate size, quaint setting, and “choice and natural consequences” philosophy, attracting media attention and countless documentaries about the program.
But state funding trends have not reflected the therapeutic approach. Directly funded by the state Department of Children and Families, the Department of Education, and private donations, Mr. Lineaweaver said that Fiscal Year 2012 appears to be “the worst yet” for the school’s budget.
“In targeting our services for the neediest few, we’re working with a population that doesn’t have access to other kinds of support,” he said.
The three students currently enrolled at the school will be transferred off-island, said Mr. Lineaweaver. One will graduate from the program, one will enter a group home, and another will head back to his family and public school, he said.
The school has a capacity of nine students, and employs 15 full-time staff who rotate shifts on-island, in addition to eight administrative staff and a boat captain.
With a mission to serve teenage boys who have not recovered with more traditional programs, Penikese Island School is more expensive than jail or non-residential schools, admitted Mr. Lineaweaver.
Faced with severe financial constraints, the school’s directors decided to take advantage of low enrollment in order to buy some time, said Mr. Lineaweaver.
While he was forced to lay off a number of staff, teachers will continue to work with graduates in the school’s aftercare program and work on maintenance projects on the island.
“This is a strategic move to protect the long-term interests of the school, so that when we do come back, it’s stronger than ever,” he said, pointing out that the school also closed for a period in the 1980s.
He could not give an estimated date for re-opening, but said a business plan was in the works to stabilize the school financially. The school’s offices on Woods Hole Road are still open.
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