Boards of Jemicy, Valley Academy agree to merge the Baltimore County schools

Both educate children with learning difficulties

January 24, 2003|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

The boards of trustees at Jemicy School and Valley Academy, two private schools that educate students with dyslexia and other difficulties, have approved a merger that will become effective July 1, the schools' officials announced yesterday.

The merger of Jemicy in Owings Mills and Valley Academy in Towson will be a benefit to the Baltimore area and the students in the two schools, said Benjamin Shifrin, head of Jemicy, who will also head the expanded institution.

Shifrin said the two schools serve similar populations and share the same philosophy about the education of children with what are known in educational circles as language-based learning differences. Those include learning disorders in reading such as dyslexia, and in writing and in math.

"This marriage is extremely exciting," Shifrin said. "This will better meet the needs of all of our students by offering a comprehensive program from the first to the 12th grades."

Students at both schools have above average to high IQs, Shifrin said, and the merged high school will offer a college preparatory curriculum.

The Jemicy School has considered developing a high school for several years and the merger with Valley Academy would enable administrators to continue individualized programs for students in upper grades, said Barry Truax, chairman of the board of Valley Academy.

Started in 1973, Jemicy was one of the first schools in the nation for children with dyslexia, a neurological condition that impairs the ability to recognize and comprehend the written word. There are 147 pupils, ages 6 to 15, enrolled on the 22-acre campus, which serves pupils through eighth grade. Jemicy has never had a high school and the students were transferred to other private or public high schools for ninth through 12th grades.

Valley Academy, which was reorganized in 1994, has 120 students in fifth through 12th grades. It is the only school in the Baltimore area serving these students beyond eighth grade. Shifrin said the teachers and staff at Valley Academy are very talented, and the merger will enhance what they are doing.

"The merger with Jemicy was a way to make Valley a better institution because there were better growth patterns and that benefits all the students," Truax said.

He said there were concerns because the school, at Chesapeake and Bosley avenues, had no athletic fields and the school had to contract with the nearby YMCA to use their facilities.

"The merger will give the school the feeling of a real high school," he said.

Although the boards have approved the merger, the legal agreement blending the schools won't be completed for about 60 days, Truax said. For the 2003-2004 school year, Valley Academy will continue to operate at its present location, he said.

What hasn't been decided is what the school in Towson will be called next year after the merger.

"Some of the issues, such as the name, will be decided over the next few years," said Richard F. Blue Jr., chairman of the board at Jemicy.

Tuition is about $19,000 annually at Valley Academy and about $22,000 at Jemicy.

Blue said the idea for the merger was first presented to the boards in November and that the idea was readily accepted.

"There were a number of people who think the merger is a fantastic thing," Blue said.

He said Shifrin has the experience to head the expanded institution because he was head of a high school in California before accepting the job at Jemicy last year. Truax said he has had calls from parents whose children attend Valley Academy. He said they were looking for reassurance.

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