A transformative opportunity for Lowell Public Schools and its students with special needs

Ste Jeanne d’Arc, a Catholic school in Pawtucketville located at 68 Dracut St., permanently closed at the end of the 2023 academic year. Lowell now has the opportunity to purchase the property and convert it into a public school for students with special needs. (Melanie Gilbert/Lowell Sun)

The City of Lowell and the Lowell Public School Department have a unique and critical opportunity before us: the purchase and transformation of the former Ste Jeanne d’Arc School into a dedicated special education school for the district. This venture is not just a real estate transaction; it is an investment in the future of our community and an affirmation of our commitment to inclusivity and education for all.

Here are just a few reasons why this purchase is critical and why collaboration between the city and the school department is essential.

The number of students with special needs in Lowell is increasing. Many of Lowell’s special needs students are integrated into mainstream schools where they may not receive the specialized attention and resources they need to thrive. A dedicated special education school would provide an environment tailored to their educational and developmental needs and give teachers more support and resources to serve these students and their families. Specialized facilities, trained staff and individualized programs can significantly improve the learning experience and outcomes for these students. This targeted approach ensures that all children, regardless of their abilities, have access to the education they deserve.

Research consistently shows that students with special needs benefit greatly from customized education programs. Current special education services in our city, while dedicated and effective within their capabilities, are often limited by the limitations of shared facilities and resources. A special school would provide an environment specifically tailored to the needs of students with special needs, providing them with the space, equipment and specialist staff needed to thrive. This would also significantly reduce the number of students who must leave the district to meet their needs.

By transforming the former Ste Jeanne d’Arc School into a special education institution, we can create a space where these students receive the attention and support necessary for their academic and personal growth. This school can offer specialized curricula, therapeutic services, and advanced teaching methods designed specifically for students with diverse learning needs. The positive impact on their academic performance and overall well-being cannot be overstated.

A dedicated special education school in Lowell could also serve as a hub for community support and inclusion. It would provide a central location where families can access resources, support groups and extracurricular activities tailored to the needs of their children. This sense of community and connection is invaluable for both students and their families, fostering a support network that extends beyond the classroom.

Investing in a special education school has far-reaching economic and social benefits. Providing specialized education and support can reduce the long-term costs associated with inadequate education and care for individuals with special needs. Well-educated and supported students are more likely to become productive, independent members of society, reducing dependence on social services in the future. In addition, this initiative would create jobs, from construction and renovation work to long-term positions for teachers, therapists and support staff.

The success of this project depends on the partnership between the City of Lowell and the Lowell Public School Department. This partnership is critical to securing funding, ensuring proper planning, facilitating renovations and maintaining ongoing support for the school. Together we can work with the community, seek input from parents and educators, and ensure the school meets the highest standards of excellence.

This would be a historic partnership that paves the way for future projects and efforts between the city and the school department for the better well-being of all Lowellians.

By transforming Ste Jeanne d’Arc School into a special needs institution, Lowell has the opportunity to create a lasting legacy of inclusivity and support. This initiative sends a strong message that every child is valued and deserves a quality education. It underscores our commitment to building a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

I firmly believe that the purchase of the former Ste Jeanne d’Arc School, which is being converted into a special education school, is a visionary and necessary step for the City of Lowell and the Lowell Public School Department. It meets an urgent need, aligns with educational goals of equity and inclusivity, and is an example of the power of collaboration between public institutions. By seizing this opportunity, we can create a transformative educational environment that empowers our students with special needs, enriches our community, and sets a precedent for future initiatives. Let’s come together to invest in this critical project and build a better, more inclusive future for all of Lowell’s children.

Dan Rourke is the mayor of Lowell and chairman of the school committee.