Schools for kids with disabilities merge

Mike Britt
Mike Britt

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In 1952, a group of local leaders, including Womble Carlyle partner Bill Womble, founded The Children’s Center, a school that serves children with disabilities, mainly physical, or who are extremely medically fragile.

And in the late 1970s, The Special Children’s School was founded to serve children with cognitive disabilities.

Now, the two Winston-Salem schools, which together serve over 200 children from birth to age 11, have merged to form The Centers for Exceptional Children.

The two schools initially will retain their names and continue to operate in their separate locations west of downtown, says H. Michael “Mike” Britt, who has been executive director of The Children’s Center and will serve as executive director of the combined organization.

“One of the most important things both schools do every day is to help children and their families figure out what it is they can hope for, and then proceed to live in that hope,” he says.

Operating with a combined budget of roughly $4 million a year, the two schools both are 501(c)3 charities and also receive funds from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

Federal law requires public-school systems to provide services for children with disabilities who are age 3 and older, and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools have contracted with the two nonprofit schools to help meet that requirement.

About 130 full-time and part-time employees work at the two schools, some of them employees of the schools, some employees of the public-school system.

The Centers for Exceptional Children offer an early-intervention program for infants and toddlers in Forsyth County, and from Davie, Davidson, Stokes and Yadkin counties.

The Children’s Center serves children from birth through age 11 with the most significant needs, while The Special Children’s School mainly serves children from birth through age five.

The Children’s Center works to graduate children at age four, five or six if they are ready to learn in less-restrictive environments, Britt says.

The Centers provide “developmentally appropriate education,” he says. “We don’t have grades because many kids are not able to deal with the standard course of study.”

The Centers develop an “individualized educational plan” for each child, and also provide physical, occupational, and speech and language therapy.

The Children’s Center also employs two full-time nurses to help meet the children’s medical needs.

The merged schools, with Doug Shouse of Doug Shouse Marketing serving as board president and Chris Parker, vice president and administrator at Vienna Village, as president-elect, receive over $1.1 million from United Way of Forsyth County, as well as Medicaid reimbursements.

And they will need to raise $200,000 to $300,000 a year in private contributions.

The Children’s Center for the past two-and-a-half years has had a development and donor relations officer, Denni Peebles, who now will be responsible for fundraising for the merged school.

Fundraising efforts include a major donors’ campaign that raised just over $100,000 in the past school year in gifts of $10,000 or more, and an annual drive that raised $28,000 two years ago and $26,000 in the past school year.

The annual drive includes funds donated by a Friends group at The Children’s Center that now will be expanded to include The Special Children’s School, as well as funds from members.

The Children’s Center also raises money through special events.

On Aug. 6, for example, it held its annual Rusty LaRue Charity Golf Classic at Oak Valley Golf Club in Advance in Davie County.

The Children’s Center also held its inaugural fundraising gala in the spring of 2009, raising $92,000, and plans to hold a second gala next spring.

“Both The Children’s Center and The Special Children’s School have for a combined 95 years provided exceptional services to exceptional children,” Britt says. “As we continue to focus on becoming the gold standard of service for disabled children, we will also continue to be ‘hallways of hope’ for hundreds of children and their families.”

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