On March 15, 2023, the Governing Board of Earlywood Educational Services voted unanimously to begin the process to dissolve their special education cooperative. Earlywood will continue to operate through June of 2024 while districts put plans in place to provide continuity in services for students with disabilities. The cooperative, formed in the early 1970’s, currently operates under an Interlocal Agreement between six member school districts including Edinburgh, Flatrock-Hawcreek, Franklin, Greenwood, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson, and Southwestern Shelby Consolidated. The 79 Earlywood employees provide special education services to students within the school districts and the therapeutic day program operated in their building located at 500 Earlywood Drive. Earlywood’s Executive Director, Dr. Angela Balsley stated that “we have been working to build local capacity to educate all students in their home schools since our co-op formed fifty years ago.” Balsley shared that the co-op once employed all of the special education teachers and paraeducators, which was over 400 employees at one point. “This organizational evolution has been occurring for decades,” said Balsley. The decision to conclude the cooperative agreement came to a tipping point because of the needs of the aging facility stacked up against limited educational funds. The unique earth-clad building, which opened in 1976, has deteriorated with age and presents maintenance challenges. Franklin Superintendent Dr. David Clendening stated that “the costs of maintaining the facility became too great.” Students will continue to receive special education services per their individualized education plans. The districts intend to offer contracts to many of the Earlywood employees. Details about these changes for students and staff will evolve over the coming year. “The Superintendents of the Governing Board are committed to working collaboratively through the process to ensure the best possible transition for students, staff, and families” stated Dr. Tim Edsell, NHJ superintendent and current Earlywood Board President.
On April 25th, the Earlywood Board met to discuss the New Connections program. The two options considered were closing the program in May of 2023 versus closing the program in May of 2024. The Board opted to move forward with program closure in May of 2023. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve the students and families of New Connections over the years. As families continue their educational journey, we encourage them to reach out to their local director if they need support.
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