HEAD­START

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pri­or­ity is that we couldn’t have kids in the mid­dle of the year lose ser­vice. We couldn’t tell 923 kids, ‘Never mind, you don’t have Head Start any­more.’ That would have been ir­re­spon­si­ble for us on all kinds of lev­els. The sec­ond pri­or­ity is we wanted to set up for us to be in a po­si­tion to be part of a long-term so­lu­tion for how we not only keep Head Start in the county, but [also] how we dra­mat­i­cally im­prove the level of ser­vice that we’re pro­vid­ing with Head Start.”

Eubanks said re­lin­quish­ing the grant was a nec­es­sary step the school board needed to take to en­sure stu­dents re­ceive the qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion they de­serve and have full ac­cess to the pro­grams and ser­vices they need.

“That $6.5 mil­lion ev­ery­one talked about will con­tinue to flow into the Head Start pro­gram. We will not lose any fed­eral funds as a re­sult of this de­ci­sion,” said Eubanks. “We’re go­ing to be in ne­go­ti­a­tion with the Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies to de­ter­mine what the right process is go­ing to be for an in­terim group to come in and run the pro­gram [dur­ing the 2016-17 school year]. Through that process, class­rooms will re­main open and the stu­dents will get ser­vices with no dis­rup­tion and the grant money will con­tinue with no dis­rup­tion.”

As far as the de­fi­cien­cies that were un­cov­ered in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­view from Fe­bru­ary, Eubanks said the board is com- mit­ted to to find­ing a res­o­lu­tion and turn­ing Head Start into a more ef­fec­tive pro­gram.

“We’ve been work­ing dili­gently to cor­rect the de­fi­cien­cies that were iden­ti­fied but clearly it wasn’t enough,” he said. “In the mid­dle of us work­ing to cor­rect those de­fi­cien­cies, two ad­di­tional in­ci­dents oc­curred. It was the re­sult of those in­ci­dents that led to the ter­mi­na­tion of the grant.”

“This is a tough one for me be­cause I spent a lot of time in my ca­reer en­sur­ing early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion and Head Start in our school sys­tem from 1995 to about 2005,” said Prince Ge­orge’s County Coun­cil Chair­man Der­rick Davis (D) dur­ing a sep­a­rate phone in­ter­view one day prior to the school board’s de­ci­sion to re­lin­quish fed­eral fund­ing. “We went from a trou­bled pro­gram to an ex­em­plary pro­gram to now a defunded pro­gram. So, in­her­ent to that, means that there were prob­a­bly a lot of missed steps along the way.”

Davis said one of the things county and school of­fi­cials will have to do in mov­ing for­ward is fig­ure out if there was a com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lem that may have con­trib­uted to the Head Start chaos.

“The more peo­ple who have to sum­ma­rize the story, the shorter the story gets,” Davis said. “That is some­thing I think we have to take a look at whether it’s Head Start or any pro­gram that we are re­spon­si­ble for in our pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.”

When Davis first be­gan work­ing for Head Start back in 1995, he said the pro­gram had a plethora of is­sues and de­fi­cien­cies. It took the county three years to fix the pro­gram back then.

“It’s al­ways easy to point fin­gers of blame,” he said. “Fir­ing the head doesn’t fix a darn thing. Just fir­ing a CEO doesn’t fix a darn thing. It just has to be dealt with. We have to look at all of the is­sues that are in­her­ent to the de­fi­cien­cies and find out where our fail­ures were and deal with them ap­pro­pri­ately. … I’m not one to blame; I’m one to fix.”

From 1998 to 2008, Davis said Head Start tran­si­tioned into an ex­em­plary pro­gram. Peo­ple across the coun­try looked at how the county ex­panded and part­nered with the com­mu­nity, county gov­ern­ment, school sys­tem, busi­nesses, day­care cen­ters and even faith-based in­sti­tu­tions in mov­ing for­ward, he said.

“I can see us mov­ing again in that di­rec­tion,” Davis said. “To ser­vice all 4-year-olds that are el­i­gi­ble for school and to ser­vice chil­dren un­der 4-years-old, who are the need­i­est chil­dren, with the Head Start pro­gram would be a dream of mine. That’s my tri­umph over tragedy.”

For Davis, he said uni­ver­sal prekinder­garten and Head Start are some of the great­est re­form agents the county can em­ploy in shap­ing bet­ter out­comes for stu­dents.

“Go­ing back to see who messed up and all of that, that should be easy be­cause it’s al­ready been done,” Davis said. “Pre­par­ing us to tran­si­tion where we are to where we need to go is where the real work is.”

“The move to al­low us a year’s time to re­group, re­or­ga­nize and move for­ward, this is a great op­por­tu­nity for that while the stu­dents in our Head Start pro­gram con­tinue to be served,” board of ed­u­ca­tion mem­ber Sonya Wil­liams said in a phone in­ter­view. “We’ve had this grant for 50 years and over time, you have to look at how you do things, how you man­age things and how you re­port.”

Wil­liams said four of her col­leagues — board Vice Chair­woman Carolyn Bo­son, Bev­erly An­der­son, Lupi Quin­teros-Grady and K. Alexan­der Wal­lace — had their first meet­ing with fed­eral gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials on Aug. 30 in an ef­fort to move the tran­si­tion for­ward.

“I got very pos­i­tive feed­back from that meet­ing,” said Wil­liams. “I’m look­ing for­ward to some pos­i­tive changes.”

When it comes to dis­cussing a pro­gram that ed­u­cates and nur­tures nearly 1,000 stu­dents in the county, Wal­lace said it should not be easy or swift. Mov­ing for­ward, his goal is to make sure Head Start stu­dents, in­clud­ing nearly all 130,000 stu­dents in the school sys­tem, have the re­sources, op­por­tu­ni­ties and fa­cil­i­ties needed to en­hance and ad­vance their ed­u­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to an email Wal­lace sent Tues­day.

“As one of four board mem­bers se­lected to part­ner with the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and other county of­fi­cials, I take that re­spon­si­bil­ity se­ri­ously and will make sure my col­leagues are con­sis­tently in­formed so we do not have a re­peat of board mem­bers mak­ing claims of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion of this very im­por­tant topic” Wal- lace said in the email.

In or­der to al­low for the Head Start pro­gram to con­tinue without in­ter­rup­tion, school sys­tem CEO Kevin Maxwell said the Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies an­nounced that it would give an in­terim grant to an­other or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Through­out our school sys­tem … we want to make sure ev­ery­one that’s in our class­rooms and those who are teach­ing and work­ing in our schools un­der­stand that this is a cul­ture of ex­cel­lence,” County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern Baker said in a press con­fer­ence video recorded Aug. 29 dur­ing the first day of Head Start at Glass­manor El­e­men­tary School in Oxon Hill. “We’ll con­tinue to do that and we’ll make the changes that are nec­es­sary.”

Baker said Head Start was de­signed to pro­vide a nur­tur­ing learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment for early learn­ers. The de­fi­cien­cies that were iden­ti­fied in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion are unac­cept­able and will not be tol­er­ated in the school sys­tem, he said. It is the county’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to be ex­tra vig­i­lant in mov­ing for­ward, he said.

“We went through a process of re­train­ing ev­ery em­ployee in the Prince Ge­orge’s County Pub­lic Schools sys­tem last spring,” Maxwell said in the video. “We still have some peo­ple to whom we have not got­ten through about their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the con­duct in a sys­tem that wants to strive for ex­cel­lence. The peo­ple who are the ac­tual ones re­spon­si­ble for this will be held ac­count­able.”

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