Our History...

St. Francis Children’s Center was founded in 1968 by Sister Joanne Marie Kliebhan, then head of the Special Education Department at Cardinal Stritch University and Eli Tash, a Jewish businessman and the father of a son with special needs. In those days, the general feeling was that children with special needs should wait until they were “ready” to go to school.  Sister Joanne Marie and Mr. Tash didn’t agree, they strongly believed that the earlier these children received services the more opportunities there would be for them to achieve success.  Their shared vision was to someday create a unique learning center that would stimulate the early development of children with special needs; a place where the philosophy and programs would reflect their belief that, “all children can learn if we can learn how to teach them.”  St. Francis Children’s Center’s first class opened in the basement of Congregation Sinai with seven students, two to six years of age, enrolled in the program.   Then in 1974, Sr. Joanne Marie and Mr. Tash’s dream of creating a specially designed learning facility was finally realized when our current building, located on North Port Washington Road, opened with 85 children up to age 12 enrolled in the program.

Today, St, Francis Children’s Center provides education, therapy and family support to 800 children and their families annually from the Greater Milwaukee area.  Throughout our 49 year history, we never lost sight of our mission and we remain as committed today as we were then to maximizing the learning potential of every child we serve. 

Time Line of our History


1968    Parents met at Nicolet High School to discuss educational options for their children with disabilities. St. Francis Children’s Center founders, Eli Tash and Sister Joanne Marie Kliebhan were present.

1969    First class held in donated space at Congregation Sinai for seven children ages 2-6.

1970   First infant class began.

1972    Moved to space at Bayside Middle School to accommodate increased enrollment.

1974    New (current) building dedicated at 6700 North Port Washington Road. Eighty-five children with special needs up to age twelve received services.

1988    South addition to building completed, approximately doubling classroom space.

1989    Classrooms integrated to include children with and without special needs.

1994    Started an infant childcare program for children with and without special needs.

1995    State legislation changed allowing non-city agency to serve children from Milwaukee Public Schools and subsequently we have served children from MPS.

1996    Changed name from Wisconsin Society for Brain-Injured Children to St. Francis Children’s Center, Inc.

1998    Started a five full-day Kindergarten.

1999    Expanded our use of natural environments, providing services in more home-based and childcare settings, to serve additional infants and toddlers with special needs in sites throughout the City of Milwaukee.

2001   Opened our Center for Autism Resources and Education (CARE) school program to serve children with severe challenges of autism, ages three years through third grade.

2002   Opened a new infant and toddler classroom with part-time schedule options for children with and without special needs.

2003   Expanded our Early Intervention/Birth to Three services into Ozaukee County to serve an additional 55 children with special needs and their families.

2004   Our Children’s Long-Term Support Program began providing case coordination and support to children with autism over the age of three who are receiving intensive or ongoing in-home therapy services in Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington counties.

2006   Expanded our Children’s Long-Term Support Program in Milwaukee County to include children with other severe disabilities including developmental, physical, emotional or sensory impairments.

2007   Remodeled all of our Early Childhood Education classrooms and opened a second Kindergarten classroom to accommodate more families on our waiting list.

2008   To accommodate the rapid growth in our Children's Long-Term Support Program we remodeled an under utilized storage area of our building to create more space for staff, who are serving more than 400 children with Autism or other severe long-term impairments.

2009    We now have three bilingual service coordinators in our Children's Long-Term Support program to better serve our growing number of Spanish-speaking families.

2010    St. Francis Children's Center goes green! With the addition of solar panels on our roof, we generate more than 10% of the electricity we use.

2011    Redesigned and built a brand new outdoor play/therapy area designed specifically for our one to three year olds that expanded the size of the former area by 1/3 and is fully accessible to all children.


2012    Exceptional Learning Initiative for Special Education (ELISE Initiative) was dedicated to provide support for special education services for children with special needs younger than three.

2013    St. Francis Children’s Center celebrated our 45th year of providing exceptional services to children and families throughout Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington counties, touching the lives of nearly 1,200 children this year.

2014     Our Early Childhood Education Program is accredited by the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs (NAC). 

2015    The dream continues....