The Franklin School: The Power of Collaborative Partnerships

The January 2019 opening of The Franklin School, an $11.4 million early learning center in the Northside neighborhood of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is a testament to the power of collaborative partnerships to transform the landscape of early care and education.

Spartanburg County First Steps, which currently administers and operates The Franklin School, served as one of several key partners in the center’s development. In early 2013, they joined the Mary Black Foundation, the Northside Development Group, Spartanburg School District 7, Piedmont Community Action, and a group of local residents in a collaborative effort to address early learning gaps in the Northside, a high-poverty community with limited access to quality childcare. Through this strategic partnership, the vision for building a world-class early childhood development center in the heart of the Northside was born.

“Our hope was that The Franklin School would offer an opportunity to level the playing field in terms of school readiness for the young children who live in the Northside,” says Barbara Manoski, Spartanburg County First Steps Executive Director.

The partnership’s vision gained momentum in December 2013, when the Mary Black Foundation announced a $2.5 million lead grant to initiate construction. After plans for the project were announced, the group raised an additional $7 million in private philanthropy to complete the 28,000-square-foot facility.

During this process, Spartanburg County First Steps assumed a leading role in establishing The Franklin School’s high standards of quality. First Steps staff provided guidance on effective teacher practices, classroom design, and developmentally appropriate furniture and materials.

“I am especially proud of the First Steps team and the role they played in creating high quality classrooms for the Franklin School,” says Manoski. “Their reputation in the Spartanburg community is built on collaborative partnerships and centered on best practice driven by brain development research.”

Spartanburg County First Steps was also instrumental in the selection and hiring of the school’s first director, Shawna Bynum. An early childcare expert with more than 14 years of experience as a center director, Bynum was working as a quality program specialist for Spartanburg County First Steps’ Early Head Start program when she was tapped as head of The Franklin School.

Today, Bynum leads a team of experienced program directors, teachers, and staff in providing high-quality care and education to more than 100 children from diverse economic backgrounds, with the capacity to serve 180. Low student-teacher ratios and high-quality indoor and outdoor learning environments help ensure that every child has the early experiences necessary for optimal brain development.

Partnership continues to be an important strategy in achieving this mission. Classrooms are funded through a combination of private-pay slots and state and federal programs that make childcare accessible to low-income families. These programs include the Early Head Start program of Spartanburg County First Steps, which operates three mixed-age classrooms at the center.

The Franklin School is also an early childhood lab school, where students from USC Upstate’s Child Development and Family Studies program have an onsite classroom and can observe best teaching practices in preparation to become early childhood educators themselves.

From its conception, The Franklin School was envisioned as a model early learning center. Now that this vision has become reality, the school continues to serve as an example of what is possible when public and private partners unite around a common goal.

To learn more about The Franklin School, visit