Barclay School closes

RIDGEWAY – The small special needs school in Ridgeway that was struggling under the weight of financial challenges closed its doors last week, after more than a decade in operation.

In a hastily planned graduation, four students were recognized to receive their diplomas – and the remaining 12, who were not set to graduate this year, had to find other schooling options, said Gillian Barclay-Smith, head and founder of the school, whose vision for a holistic, abilities-focused model of special education was what got the school started 11 years ago.

“It just breaks my heart,” said Barclay-Smith of the closure, ex pressing gratitude for the way the community has wrapped its loving arms around the school in the years it’s operated. “People have been nothing but kind.”

The Barclay School was part of the community in Ridgeway, a town with a tiny downtown but a big heart.

The school always operated on a shoestring, and the community offered up its love in everything from donations of used books and equipment to volunteers who taught things like art, gardening, and life skills and helped to facilitate regular excursions for the students in the town.

The school, which was known for its family-like atmosphere and kept several class pets, regularly involved the students in community service projects; the children were always taught to give back. 

It became public in December that the school had suffered funding disruptions and was struggling to pay its bills.

In an effort to help it stay open, landlord MEKRA Lang North America – a major industrial employer in Ridgeway – gifted the school a year of free rent. Parents and others pitched in with fundraising in an effort to help the Barclay School finish the spring semester and allow time to make a plan for the future.

Donations came in from around the community and also from far outside, but in the end it was not enough, and at the end of last week the school closed its doors. 

Barclay-Smith, for whom education has been a lifelong passion, expressed her thanks to everyone who played a role – big or small – in keeping this special place going for the past 11 years.

“The community – everybody’s been wonderful,” she said. “What a privilege to spend the time in the company of these amazing kids and the wonderful support that we always got from the community, the kindness of people. That’s kind of what I’m left with.”