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Jul 29, 2019 12:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Remsenburg Parent To Open Holistic Private School In Center Moriches

Andrea Libutti at the Center Moriches property where her new school will be opening. ANISAH ABDULLAH
Jul 30, 2019 1:11 PM

Parents who prefer a new learning environment for their children typically choose to enroll them in a different school or to homeschool them. But for Andrea Libutti, a Remsenburg resident and mother of three boys, she instead chose to create her own private school.

When she isn’t working 24-hour shifts as an emergency physician at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, or caring for her sons, Dr. Libutti is busy setting up the Acton Academy Eastern Long Island in Center Moriches—with a goal of opening its doors in September.

Launching a new school has not been a smooth process for Dr. Libutti, who began pursuing the idea in January, but she has stayed committed with help from the larger school organization. She is opening an affiliate school under Acton Academy, based in Austin, Texas, and has received from them the materials and curriculum needed to do so. But on her end, she has to establish the school in her community by finding the right location and students.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “Finding a location has been a nightmare. I have been from Southampton to Patchogue and every town in between looking for a location. For one reason or another, things would fall through.”

She finally landed at a building at 184 Main Street in Center Moriches, on a 2-acre property that formerly housed a preschool and summer camp. The campus has a Victorian-style building used for classroom and office space, as well as a baseball diamond, a basketball court, two swimming pools, an outdoor theater and a clubhouse.

In the middle of renovating the building, Dr. Libutti discovered that she will need a special zoning permit to allow for a school use, an obstacle that will likely delay the opening date. She said she hired an attorney to work with the Town of Brookhaven to allow a school use at the property, which is currently zoned as a day care and day camp.

“Whenever I can open my doors, I can open my doors,” she said. If the zoning issue causes a major setback, she plans to use the property in the meantime to hold different children’s fairs to promote the school and get the community involved.

She signed a five-year lease for the space on July 22 and is working with the property owner, Eric Glodstein, to restore the campus grounds.

“There’s such a strong community interest in it,” Mr. Glodstein said of the property. He has owned the parcel and operated the former preschool on it since 1997. “I think people respond to the fact that it’s going to continue to be a school. I think it’s a great thing.”

Her job requires her to work only five days a month, for 24 hours each day, so she can dedicate the remainder of the month to work on launching the new school. Acton officials recommended she take 18 months to prepare, but she wanted to expedite the process and have it open in eight months so that her sons could attend next school year.

Dr. Libutti’s three sons, Jack, 15, Sam, 13, and Ben, 10, each attend a different private school as far west as Huntington and as far east as East Hampton to receive the best education for their individual needs. But commutes took hours from their Remsenburg home and Dr. Libutti knew that something needed to change.

Prior to private school, Dr. Libutti had enrolled her children in public school and even homeschooled Jack, who is on the autism spectrum, so she was running out of new options. She said she wanted to stray from the traditional American education model, which, to her, is not designed to accommodate each student’s unique interests and strengths.

“So I started thinking about, what can I bring out to the East End?” she said.

After searching for alternative education systems, Dr. Libutti discovered Acton Academy, a private school that takes on an individualized learning approach while focusing on mindfulness and self-reliance. Acton Academy was established in 2009 and now has over 100 affiliate locations worldwide and about 50 more preparing to open soon.

“I came across Acton, and I just fell in love with the educational model. I went out to Austin, Texas, and I saw it in action and it brought tears to my eyes. I looked at this model and I said, ‘Every child should be educated this way.’”

The academy’s curriculum centers around hands-on, project-based work, while also teaching core skills through online education platforms like Khan Academy and Newsela. Dr. Libutti was given the materials needed to launch her own affiliate school in addition to ample support from the academy that she said helped ease the process.

Dr. Libutti’s pursuit closely resembles that of Irene Hope Gazza, a former Hampton Bays Elementary School teacher who founded Southampton Montessori School in 1983 and has since retired. Ms. Gazza said she was searching for an educational approach that focused more on individualized learning than what was offered in public schools and she discovered the Montessori education method.

Ms. Gazza tackled the project on her own, with support from the American Montessori Society and her husband, Joseph. It took her three years to open the school. She said she needed that time to build the school from the ground up, work through zoning restrictions and receive proper certification from the state.

“When we did open the first year, we had eight children to start and half of them were staff children because we couldn’t get it open in September — we had to open in November,” she explained. “But by the end of the school year, we had a waitlist for the following year, so we did very well.”

Ms. Gazza continued, “It was really a wonderful accomplishment to do that, and I really praise anyone who wants to do that because it’s so necessary to have options for children.”

In the first year, enrollment will be open to first through ninth grade, at a yearly cost of $10,500 per student. Dr. Libutti plans to expand enrollment to kindergarten through 12th grade in subsequent years. Under the model, students are split into “studios,” or groups based on school type. The first year will have one elementary school studio and one middle school studio with a maximum of 36 students each, and will ultimately include prekindergarten and high school studios as well.

Students are given the freedom to explore personal interests and form their own opinions through interactive exercises and dialogue. They will have Socratic seminars twice a day in which students discuss real-world scenarios and bounce ideas off each other, she explained.

Dr. Libutti hired two teachers, which they refer to as “guides” because they assume more of a guidance role to help students navigate freely through their projects and critical thinking exercises rather than teach them lessons, she explained.

By September, the school will be chartered through the State Education Department and will be an official education corporation, she said. Property renovations and repairs will also be completed that month.

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Congratulations and best of luck!
By Craigcat (254), Speonk on Aug 2, 19 12:52 PM
Thanks Craig! Best to you and your family!
By Alibutti (1), Remsenburg on Aug 2, 19 2:53 PM
While the good doctor is making an effort to educate her children may I suggest she take a long hard look at working a 24 hour shift in an emergency room.Even an MD can get mentally exhausted.
By watchdog1 (537), Southampton on Aug 3, 19 8:29 AM
My children attend a wonderful independent school in Aquebogue that also offers alternative education much like the one that Dr. Libutti is starting. If you're looking for an alternative school on the western part of the North Fork, make sure to check it out. It's a terrific place that my children love: http://www.peconiccommunityschool.org/ourschool. Best of luck for this new school endeavor!
By amandaeabr (1), Baiting Hollow on Aug 5, 19 2:10 PM
The Hampton Classic, Horse Show, Bridgehampton