Parents fight to keep East Brainerd Siskin center open - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Parents fight to keep East Brainerd Siskin center open

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Parents are rallying to stop the closure of the Siskin Children's Institute in East Brainerd. The non-profit center provides early education programs for young children of all abilities.

Siskin's services are so popular, there is a constant waiting list for its East Brainerd and downtown center. Channel 3 caught up with the president, who says a variety of factors played into shutting down.

"The board and I made a strategic decision, a tough, tough one, to make a change," said John Farrimond, president and CEO of Siskin.

John Farrimond came to Chattanooga from Los Angeles a year ago to be president and CEO of Siskin. He saw need for change. Farrimond says out of the 116 children at the East Brainerd early learning center, just 12 are diagnosed with special needs. That ratio is expected to drop next year.

"There's no magic ratio. But I think if you have a 70/30 ratio, 30 percent children with special needs, 70 percent as typically developing, that would be something we would like to be at," said Farrimond.

The center saw a drop in funding from Tennessee's Early Intervention System, or TEIS. Hamilton County Schools also cut back on contracting with the center for special needs education.

"We have wonderful partnerships with TEIS and the Hamilton County school system, but they have shifted the way they refer to center-based services."

Farrimond also says Siskin's endowment funds have shrunk.

"What that's resulted in, is fewer children with special needs at the East Brainerd location. And combined with fewer dollars coming from our endowments which fund our programs, that's led to a very tough and difficult decision," said Farrimond.

"It is heartbreaking and I hope that they can somehow prevent the doors from closing, so that these kids and parents are not scrambling to look for what's next for them," said parent Dena Jackson.

Dena Jackson's son spent three years at Siskin.

"It turns out, he ended up being a slow 'sitter-upper,' crawler and walker. And they introduced me to TEIS," said Jackson.

Siskin helped him through physical therapy. She and other parents started a Facebook page, fighting to keep the center open.

"We hope to expand our services downtown and continue to serve as many children and families as we can both now and in the future," said Farrimond.

The East Brainerd location is set to close May 30th. Farrimond says Siskin is looking to add additional classrooms at its downtown location. He also says it will try to retain as many of the 39 East Brainerd staff members as it can.

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