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Not every school has a sprawling campus, a parking lot, a gym and a football team. Sometimes, you can drive by a school every day and never notice it.

Just a couple of blocks from downtown Santa Rosa, in a two-story Victorian house on Third Street, the New Horizon School has been teaching students with learning disabilities for the past 31 years.

"We're an accredited, private, nonprofit school," said co-founder and director Marianne McCarthy Campbell, who holds a master's degree in special education from San Francisco State University.

"In any given year, about half of our kids are privately funded by their parents and the other half are funded by school districts," she said.

Currently, the school has 19 students ranging from sixth to 12th grade. Enrollment has fluctuated from as few as five in the early years to as many as 40. The alumni include a Ph.D. and several former students who went on to earn master's degrees.

The New Horizon School adapts from year to year to meet needs of students coming in, Campbell said.

"We don't say, 'This what we have to offer, and your kid has to fit into this box,'" Campbell said. "We say, 'Here is the student, with strengths and weaknesses, and we design a program for that person.' We create a program around the kids — whatever works."

Former student Adam Paulsen, 19, spent his junior and senior high school years at New Horizon School, after being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Now he attends business classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and works as a receptionist, aide and "everybody's personal assistant" at New Horizon.

"As a student here, I felt I was given the tools to take in information, and everything that's going around me, and decipher it to see what's important and what needs to be done," Paulsen said.

School districts are required by law to find alternative programs for students whose needs can't be met at regular public schools, Campbell explained.

Parents who can afford the $28,000 yearly tuition at New Horizon School can make their own choice to bring their students to Campbell and her staff of eight teachers and three aides.

"The setting's different here. It's a lot calmer. The largest class we have is eight students. There's a lot of one-on-one instruction," Campbell said.

"I match kids according to their needs, so there could be ninth-graders working with 12th-graders, or sixth-graders working with 10th-graders."

Every one of the school's 12 rooms is used for instruction, including Campbell's small upstairs office, which is decorated with a student's unicorn paintings.

The school day runs from 9 a.m. to 2:40 p.m., with a homework session at the school until 3:30 p.m.

"A lot of these kids have emotional issues around doing homework at home, and fighting over it with their families at home, and taking hours and hours to get it done," Campbell said.

"These are really bright kids," she said. "That's why so many of these kids don't find their way to us until they're older. They can fudge it at school for quite a long time, until they just can't do it anymore."

Campbell and her staff find alternative ways to reach students who still can't read or write, or can't translate what they hear into written words, or just can't sit still.

The diagnoses that come with incoming students range from dyslexia (characterized by difficulty reading) to Asperger's syndrome (marked by difficulty in interacting socially).

"Some of our kids look like they're misbehaving, or have the heebie-jeebies," she said, "but a lot of them are really masking the fact that they can't learn in the way that's presented to them in a larger setting."

To help teach the New Horizon students geometry, the director called in her husband, Bob Campbell, a construction worker and former businessman and pilot. Together, he and the students and teachers worked out the measurements necessary to build a redwood fence behind the school.

Campbell, who grew up in Massachusetts and got her bachelor's degree at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, founded the New Horizon School in 1982 with Deborah Greene-Jacobi, who retired five years ago.

While Campbell, now 60, has spent her life with children, she has never had children of her own — "just these" at the school.

"I work very long hours," she said, "but I go home to a quieter house, with just dogs and cats."

<i>You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. For more on the New Horizon School, visit www.newhorizonschool.info.</i>