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Oct 3, 2017 5:50 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

School For Kids With Autism Makes Pitch To Take Over Former CDCH Facility In Wainscott

Kevin Gersh, whose school for autistic children, Gersh Academy, is vying to purchase the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons building in East Hampton and open a new school there. Michael Wright
Oct 3, 2017 6:33 PM

A school that specializes in educating children with autism is close to inking a contract with the trustees of the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons to purchase the shuttered school building and open its own school and summer camp program in Wainscott.

The Gersh Academy’s founder and “chief autism officer,” Kevin Gersh, this week brought the school’s proposal to the East Hampton Town Board, which will have to approve any new uses of the building on Stephen Hands Path since it was constructed on town-owned land with a long-term ground lease.

Mr. Gersh said the new school would offer classes for autistic children of all ages, from kindergarten through 12th grade, depending on what is needed—something that has never been available before on the East End.

“I will be providing the best service for the children—that’s what is most important to me,” Mr. Gersh said.

He started his presentation with the story of his first encounter with a child with then-little-understood Asperger’s syndrome, 25 years ago, while he was running a Montessori School.

“Instead of changing the child’s behavior to meet the expectations of the classroom, we change the environment to meet the child’s needs,” he said. “Customize the education around the child. Don’t ask a child to change who they are to meet our adult needs.”

Unlike CDCH, which was built on a model of mixing special-needs students with regular-education students, the Gersh Academy would educate only autistic children. CDCH started in Pre-K and ran through sixth grade. Mr. Gersh said that if there was demand for Pre-K that would be added, too.

Whatever the scope of the school’s student body, Mr. Gersh said there is undoubtedly demand for special education services.

“There is a need,” he told town officials during Tuesday’s Town Board work session. “I met a mother who has a child with multiple disabilities … who travels two hours a day to get to a school from the Hamptons. That child should not be on a bus four hours a day.”

An attorney for the Gersh Academy, Steve Latham, told the board the academy is “99 percent done” with the contract negotiations with CDCH for the purchase of the building. Mr. Latham said he was not at liberty to discuss what the purchase of the building likely would cost before the negotiations were completed.

In addition to the school, Mr. Gersh said he plans to run a camp for up to 150 special needs children during the summer at the school property.

Mr. Gersh said that if the contract falls into place as expected, and the town gives its blessing, he hopes to open the school property up for the day camp in the summer of 2018, and for school programming by next fall.

“If you allow me the privilege of being in your community, I will develop something you haven’t seen and Long Island hasn’t seen,” he enthused. “Give me the opportunity and come and see it.”

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