CAPS Collaborative was established in 1975 under the direction and supervision of 8 surrounding schools districts in central Massachusetts. Through a conglomerate of Ashburnham/Westminster, Athol-Royalston, Gardner, Mahar, Narragansett, Orange, Petersham, Quabbin and Winchendon, these originating members sought out to form model special education programs for low incidence students. Their purpose was to identify the needs within their neighboring towns to provide improved and/or additional opportunities for students that on their own could not be met. The first Executive Director of CAPS, Everett Thistle, helped bring the Collaborative from a thought and good idea to real, live, functioning opportunities for students. The original classrooms were held in the Westminster Cottages at Gardner State Hospital before moving to various locations in Gardner Public Schools.
During these early years, CAPS became C.A.P.S. Inc as articles of incorporation were filed the same year the Collaborative was adopted in 1976. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 1980’s when CAPS would begin to form into the educational collaborative we know today. In July of the 1980 – 81 school year, who some people refer to as the “Father” of CAPS Collaborative, Robert (Bob) Foley was hired as the third Executive Director of CAPS and would hold this position until his passing in the spring of 2007. Bob Foley had a passion for the students attending CAPS, creating a family-like culture under his leadership.
In the area of Growth of Collaboratives, I believe that a premise should cite the positive aspects of providing quality programs and services to low incidence student populations and not base it solely on economic benefits to school committees. “
-Robert Foley, 1988, in response to DESE’s proposed policy on Collaboratives
His tenure formed an identity for the Collaborative, later adding the City of Fitchburg as another member while expanding its program opportunities into the medically fragile, multiple disability population. The then called Rainbow Programs created a true niche market in central mass, offering a unique opportunity to local students where there weren’t otherwise until the Metro-Boston area. Programs for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing population were also brought under the CAPS umbrella in the late 1990’s. An under served population in the region, Bob fought hard to create and keep these programs early on despite constant enrollment fluctuations.
Bob also helped establish a steadfast destination for CAPS on School Street in Gardner, Massachusetts. A true school building of the 1940’s, made completely of brick with huge windows, high ceilings and a slate roof, School Street was home to those at CAPS for over 30 years. Decades of memories of student and staff success stories, School Street holds a place in everyone’s heart whoever worked or attended classes within those walls. At its peak, CAPS held over 70 students and as many staff spread throughout the former Jr/Sr High School, Gateway and Rainbow Programs at School Street. Today, the building is left unoccupied and downtrodden but the history and memories of over 3 decades will live on as long as CAPS Collaborative remains in business.