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Our View: Sykesville learning center gets failing grade for communication

The Huntington Learning Center in Sykesville has undoubtedly made a significant, positive difference for plenty of Carroll County children. That’s why it stings especially badly that it was abruptly closed with no notice to clients and employees. But what does the closure mean for those most affected?

We spoke with Robert Henneberry, who had been taking his 9-year-old daughter to the center since April with $2,500 in financed tuition payments still needing to be made to protect his credit rating. When he arrived at the center, at 6300 Georgetown Blvd. on Dec. 9, he found a note on the door saying it was closed. He told us his daughter’s public school teachers “have just been amazed at how much this has helped her improve."

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“The money obviously is a concern,” he said. "But my concern is she has been doing so well, I don’t want her to stop.”

Even the learning center’s director, Marissa Cote, was caught flat-footed. She told us, via Facebook Messenger, “I had no idea the owner was having financial trouble. I personally have not been paid for the last three or four pay periods." Cote said it was more than a job to her. “I poured so much of myself into that place, and I am very sad to see it close. I continue to be disappointed with how everything is going.”

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The Sykesville center was a franchise location owned by Joshua Franciscus, separate from Huntington Learning Center corporate.

Henneberry tried to reach someone, anyone, who could provide any sort of clarity on the closure. He called the center and got no one. He called corporate, got transferred around, left messages and got no callbacks. We also went on a search for answers, going through the process of trying to get someone on the phone, and, on one call, spoke with someone who would not fully identify herself and, on another, the call was terminated. So we can confirm this was all far more difficult than it should’ve been.

Ultimately it took more than a week for Henneberry to get answers that Franciscus reiterated to us: “Every family that has an account balance will be refunded."

We’re relieved Franciscus has pledged to refund tuition balances to families of students. It’s the right thing to do. And we aren’t alleging there was any malicious intent on Franciscus’ part — he told us he was “in a hole" and, “It was never our intention for it to close down.” Obviously, sometimes businesses and even nonprofits have to shut down because of factors that can be beyond anyone’s control. The closing is understandable. What is hard to understand is the blatant lack of communication with those who would be most owed an explanation.

The owner should’ve been proactive and done his employees and clients the courtesy of letting them know what was going on. And even though the center was a franchise location, it’s unacceptable that corporate was unresponsive to phone queries and little help in getting answers. “If somebody had returned one of my phone calls, if anything would have come along the lines of notifying parents what was going on, it would have gone miles," Henneberry told us.

This absolutely could have been handled in a way that better respected the people most important to the center and the work that was done there.

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