The new director of the Franklin School has a number of challenges facing her ahead of the early learning school’s opening in January.

There’s staffing to consider, training to complete and kinks to work out after Shawna Bynum officially begins her post as the school’s first director on July 1.

But motivation? That’s not going to be an issue.

“To have the opportunity to be a part of this, to start something new that has such a chance to make an impact on so many young people, who gets to do that?” Bynum asked. “We’re being given a chance to really make a difference, and that’s something we can’t take lightly.”

The Franklin School effort is just one component of a sweeping project to bring new life to Spartanburg’s Northside.

The new early learning school will serve children from ages 6 weeks to 5 years old as part of an initiative spearheaded by the Northside Development Group and the Mary Black Foundation, among other partners. The school could have 160-200 students.

Project leaders broke ground on the building, which will be located near the Cleveland Academy of Leadership on Franklin Street, last year. That effort should be completed in time to enroll the school’s first students in less than seven months.

Bynum brings years of early childhood education experience to the table, though she began her career almost by chance as a young mother.

After her son was born, she said she felt the urge to go back to work. She solved the child-care-versus-work conundrum by choosing a job that would allow her to look after her 1-year-old.

Bynum ended up working at a child development center in Southern Pines, N.C., for the better part of a decade before moving with her now expanded family to Spartanburg following the birth of her daughter.

She later helped grow a faith-based early learning center before moving into director positions for organizations like the Roy C. Henderson Child Development Center. Her most recent experience has included time as Spartanburg County First Steps Early Head Start’s quality program specialist.

Bynum described an effective early learning program as one that provides children with a safe, nurturing environment that can be used to set the table for follow-on learning.

“You have to first and foremost be a place that is safe for children and a place where that is the number one goal,” Bynum said. “Then you can offer individualized care, where the curriculum is developmentally appropriate. Everything starts, though, with just building the kind of environment where a child and their parents can trust you’ll be doing what’s best for that child.”

Franklin School personnel will work to build relationships with both their students and their students’ parents and guardians, she said. Bynum noted that early learning initiatives are critical since much of a child’s brain development happens before the age of 5.

“So everything is an opportunity to learn,” Bynum said. “We’re focused on play at that age, because that’s how a child understands the world, but you can lay the groundwork for a focus on literacy and curriculum that’s going to prepare them for the rest of their education.”

Bynum was also upfront about the reality that some children have harder home lives than others, and she noted the real impact adverse childhood experiences can take on a young mind. That’s why relationship building is a critical component of education, she said.

“If you make them feel safe, then you can build a relationship that might be able to help them through whatever they might be going through,” Bynum said. “It’s important that we learn our children, and be respectful of the fact that their parents are really their first teachers. That’s why we have to include the parents and do everything we can to give them the tools to continue what we’ve started in the classroom at home.”

The school has much work to do before it gets off the ground next year, but Bynum said the day the first students enter the facility will put all the work into perspective.

“You get to see all these new faces who, hopefully, you’re going to be able to make a positive impact on. We’re going to make sure we make the most of this amazing opportunity and do everything we can to take and impart what we’ve learned on these kids,” Bynum said. “It should be fun.”

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