(WRCB) – The head of Siskin Children's Institute has announced that he will retire.

Dr. Jerry Jensen, 62, has been the head of one of Chattanooga's best-established nonprofits since December 2005.

"It's one of the factors that really drew me to the Institute and that made pulling up stakes in my native Kansas City worth it," said Jensen. "When I learned of the legacy of Mose and Garrison Siskin, and the brothers' lifelong commitment to helping those in need, I knew this was an organization I could dedicate myself to wholeheartedly. The Siskins' vision for making life better for children with special needs and their families was groundbreaking. I immediately saw the potential for where this extraordinary organization could go next."

Under Jensen's leadership, the Institute has matured from a preschool serving 117 children to a multi-faceted facility that helps more than 1,500 children and families annually in our region. Most noteworthy, the Institute, which historically has served those in the immediate Chattanooga area, is now shaping schools of thought in early childhood education, intervention and special education internationally. 

In 2008, Jensen negotiated the purchase of a second Early Learning Center, which opened in August of that year on Gunbarrel Road in Chattanooga. This facility along with the long-established Early Learning Center at the Institute's downtown Chattanooga campus on Carter Street served 354 children last year in an inclusive education setting where children with special needs and those who are typically developing learn and grow side by side.

In 2009, Jensen oversaw the establishment of a formalized research department, the Center for Child and Family Research. Three doctoral-level researchers—Robin McWilliam, Ph.D., Tom Buggey, Ph.D., and Amy Casey, Ph.D., BCBA,—administer the program. Along with a cadre of interns and visiting researchers, they conduct studies that develop effective and innovative early childhood education approaches that improve the quality of life of children with special needs and their families. "Results of the studies coming out of the research department are shared with professionals all over the world," said Jensen. "The research center has established the Institute as a thought leader in the field."

"The reputations of Drs. McWilliam, Buggey and Casey have taken the Institute to a whole new level of influence," said Jensen. "This is evidenced by the state of Tennessee's choice in naming the Institute as administrator of home visiting services for the Southeast District of Tennessee's Early Intervention System (TEIS). We serve more than 160 families in a 10-county area through this important program."

Noting a healthcare service gap in diagnosing and treating children with or at risk for developmental behavioral disabilities, Jensen forged a partnership with T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital, now Children's Hospital at Erlanger, to open the Center for Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics in July 2009. Since then, more than 2,000 children have received specialized healthcare services from triple-board certified developmental behavioral pediatrician, Regina Gargus, M.D., FAAP, and her staff in the pediatric center.

"Jerry has truly made his mark in the annals of Siskin Children's Institute's history," said recently elected board of directors' chair F. Scott LeRoy. "We sincerely thank him for his years of tireless service to the organization. He is a true visionary, and we wish him and his family all the best as he begins this new chapter in his life."

Jensen said it has been a privilege to lead the Institute and describes his time here as "the most emotionally rewarding" in his career. His decision to retire was not one he made lightly. "My wife Patty and I have determined that we must return to Kansas City to be near family," said Jensen. "We have three grandchildren and aging parents there, and our families need us."

"Siskin Children's Institute is really making a difference in children's lives," said Jensen. "A parent of a 2011 Institute graduate recently commented that the life lessons of acceptance, caring and empathy that her child learned here at the Institute are ones that have served him well in kindergarten and that she knows he will carry with him all his life. During my time here, I have learned to fully recognize the importance of those early childhood years and how impressionable they are. If you can engage a child and help him or her develop independence and social relationships in those years between birth and age six, that child has a strong foundation on which to build a happy, fulfilled, productive life." 

As Jensen reflected on his time at the Institute, he said, "I really am most proud of the quality of volunteers and staff who serve the organization shoulder to shoulder. We are blessed with an exceptional group of community leaders who serve on our board, committees and other volunteer groups. These committed individuals are a guiding force for the organization, and I thank them for their input and support during my time at the Institute."

"I also want to recognize and commend our incredible staff. You won't find a more professional, dedicated and nurturing group of people who are positively impacting the lives of the children and families we serve."

Jensen will continue in his role as president and CEO through the remainder of 2012. LeRoy says a search for Jensen's replacement will begin immediately.