LAKEWOOD RANCH -- A brand-new school with a mission to provide quality education to special needs children in a small, safe and nurturing environment recently opened at Lakewood Ranch.
Sarasota Coastal Academy, a private, nonprofit, nondenominational Christian school, is located at 5581 Broadcast Court, just north of the Lakewood Ranch campus of State College of Florida.
The school can accommodate about 134 students but enrollment will probably be capped well below that to keep class sizes small, said Tony C. Aksentis, operations and facility manager.
"We will get to 40 to 50 kids pretty quickly," Aksentis said.
Sarasota Coastal Academy now serves elementary through middle-school children with autism, Down Syndrome or other disabilities.
Sarasota Coastal Academy accepts all but severely disabled children.
School officials plan to open enrollment in January for high school students starting in the fall semester.
"We opened the school because there is a great need," said Kathy Lynn, a 25-year teaching veteran and co-founder of the school.
"These are God's children, and they deserve a chance to grow, too. They can learn to live in society. They deserve that chance," Lynn said of the school's students.
Special needs children are also being served by several other private schools in the area, including Pinnacle Academy in Lakewood Ranch, and Ave Maria Preparatory School in Myakka City.
Tuition is paid primarily through The McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. Step Up for Students Scholarships are also accepted.
The McKay Scholarships allow more than 24,000 Florida students with special needs to attend a specialized private school, according to the Florida Department of Education website.
The scholarships are named after Bradenton resident John McKay, former president of the Florida Senate.
Instruction is provided by certified exceptional student education teachers. The curriculum includes occupational therapy, speech therapy, direct instruction, physical education, art, music and more.
Although the academy is not part of any school district, it has adopted the Sarasota school district calendar to simplify planning for families.
Student enrollment is split 50-50 between Manatee and Sarasota students.
Molly Renner, director of student services, like Kathy Lynn, plays an active role in teaching students at the academy,
"It's wonderful," Renner said of the school's approach. "The children know that someone believes in them."
Aksentis, a former Army helicopter pilot, has great respect for the work teachers do at the school.
"Flying a $10 million piece of equipment is a piece of cake compared to what these teachers do," he said.
School hours are 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 941-312-6743 or visit www.srqca.org.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1