Parents of special needs students worry about New Summit School’s future after owner’s arrest | #specialneeds | #kids

Educators assessed Mary Harbin Hinds, who has a rare chromosome disorder resulting in academic delays, as a nonreader when she entered New Summit School in third grade. 

Halfway through the year at the Jackson private school, “she was reading her poems on her own with words as large as ‘wonderment,’” her mom, Jodi Kimbrell Hinds, recalled. By the end of her first year, the girl — now a ninth grader at the school — was reading on grade level.

“It was life changing,” the mom of two said. “Mary Harbin is just a mystery. She can do great at some things and some things she can’t. New Summit just plugged into that immediately and figured out what works for her.”

Parents of New Summit students — nine of whom spoke with Mississippi Today — rave about their children’s educational successes and emotional growth, the result of opportunities that the state’s public school system typically cannot provide. 

But behind the scenes, school owners and operators Nancy New and her son Zach New were allegedly lying about the teachers they employed and the students they served, defrauding the state out of more than $2 million in public school dollars. The recent federal indictment, to which they’ve pleaded not guilty, came more than a year after the two were arrested on separate state charges alleging they also embezzled more than $4 million in welfare dollars through their nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center.

Now, several parents of students with special needs — who found a safe haven at New Summit in Jackson — are caught in the fray, uncertain about whether the school will remain open and if the 185 students will continue to have access to the specialized instruction they’ve come to cherish.

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