Charter school specializes in teaching students with disabilities
Class is already in session at the new $18 million Spero Academy in Northeast Minneapolis, a charter school that specializes in teaching young people with disabilities, especially autism.
From need-specific programs to less stimulating areas, the school is designed around a student body with diverse needs. About 90 percent of the school’s students at the K–6 school have some sort of disability.
Director Curtis Windham said the concept behind Spero (speer-oh) was a place “where both students with disabilities and neurotypical students could come together and support one another.”
“Our vision for Spero Academy is to become a 21st century learning center with an integrated individualized academic curriculum and a social learning curriculum with supportive therapeutic services,” he said in a statement.
For the past eight years, Spero has occupied about 22,000 square feet of the former Holland Elementary School building, which has been the Grace Center for Community Life since 2010. Before that, the school had partnered with two other local churches. Windham said the school “nickel and dimed” its way through retrofitting these spaces for its student body.
Spero’s new facility puts it less than a mile away from its previous location. The two-story, 63,500-square-foot building occupies a formerly vacant block at 27th & California.
“We were very fortunate to find four acres of empty land in Northeast,” Windham said.
The school has 21 classrooms, or three for each grade. Each grade has three programs with its own room, including a traditional classroom, an Additional Support Room for students who need one-on-one instruction some of the time and a Personalized Learning Room for students who need individualized instruction throughout the school day.
Spero has rooms for speech, music, occupational and physical therapy programs. There’s a gym with a track on the second floor, a cafeteria and a fenced-in schoolyard — the school abuts railroad tracks — with a playground.
The project was possible through state and federal funding. Spero is authorized through the University of St. Thomas, which serves as the intermediary between the school and the Minnesota Department of Education.
HDR is responsible for the school’s unique design. Windham said they chose the architecture firm because of its portfolio of schools and clinics that support children with autism. The new facility was an opportunity to bring those two expertise together, he added.
The larger space means Spero will have room for 65 more students for a capacity of 168 students, or eight students per classroom. Its enrollment this year is 132 students, Windham said, or about four for every teacher.
This year, students started school in mid-August, about a week late. The school has an 11-month academic calendar with every Friday and one month during the summer off.
Windham said there’s a need for schools that can accommodate students with disabilities. Spero’s waitlist jumped from about 20 to 60 students this year.
“We’ll have plenty of room to expand for our kids or students that come in,” he said.
For more information about Spero, visit spero.academy.