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.”