YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It began as one classroom and a handful of students. Almost 70 years later, Potential Development School for Students with Autism in Youngstown has grown into an academic magnet that provides a comprehensive pre-kindergarten to 12th grade education.
Over the past decade, the number of families seeking services has continued to surge, resulting in the ongoing need for building and program expansion.
Last year proved no different as the school marked the highest student population in its history with a total enrollment of 220 students and 11 graduating seniors, says CEO Paul Garchar.
With a priority on low student-to- teacher ratios, Potential Development employs more than 100 and recruits teachers and teaching assistants by offering a competitive salary and health care package.
With the rapid growth of students and staff, strategic planning plays a vital role in the success of Potential Development, Garchar says.
Enhancing and elevating the workforce development program became a focus early in 2021. Thanks to funding from local foundations, he notes, Potential Development connects students with the community and offers opportunities to prepare them for life after high school.
As Garchar explains, partnerships with local businesses and nonprofits offer valuable job and social skills training designed to provide the experiences necessary to successfully plan a future after graduation.
In 2021, Potential Development invested in technology initiatives deemed critical to maintaining its standard of excellence, the CEO continues. Updates include the addition of a communication app for parents, students and staff; a college and career readiness software program that allows students to identify skills necessary for college, career and life; and the purchase of five artificial intelligence robots designed to work with students with autism.
Other initiatives in 2021 included increased grantmaking efforts, capital building improvements, a new preschool roof, the purchase of Chrome books and hot spots, and carpet and painting throughout the three sites.
“As we welcome 2022, our vision is to continue offering students a robust learning experience that capitalizes on their individual strengths,” says Garchar. “We are poised to address the ever-changing needs of our students and their families and provide the supports necessary for success. The investments we have made in our staff and our buildings serve as indicators that we are committed to ensuring an even greater impact in years to come.”