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Head Start students enrolled into VISD's Pre-K after management changes

By Sonny Long
Dec. 4, 2010 at 6:04 a.m.


THE STORY SO FAR1973 - Victoria Head Start program begins under the management of the Community Action Committee.

1997 - Advocates for Children and Families takes over full-time administration of Head Start.

May 28, 2010 - Report issued by federal Office of the Inspector General citing financial concerns at Victoria Head Start.

Aug. 11, 2010 - Advocates for Children and Families suspended from operating Head Start

Aug. 20, 2010 - Joyce Hyak, executive director since 1977, relieved of duties.

Oct. 11, 2010 - Most Head Start students on the DeLeon Elementary School and Vickers Elementary School campuses are moved into Victoria school district's Pre-K programs.

Oct. 2010 - Advocates for Children and Families recommended for termination as grantee of local Head Start.

Amanda Castro wasn't thrilled when she received a telephone call telling her that the Head Start program at DeLeon Elementary would no longer be available for her 4-year-old daughter, who is attending school for the first time.

"I was told that if I didn't put her in the school district's Pre-K program, there was basically no place else for her to go. She would be put on a list to get into another Head Start program," Castro said.

"It was upsetting for me," she added. "It was her first year and that Monday was kind of like starting school all over again. They were thrown into the general population. No one was guiding them and telling them what to do."

MOVE TO PRE-K

On Oct. 11, about six weeks after the start of school, students in the Head Start program on Victoria school district campuses were integrated into the district's Pre-Kindergarten programs at DeLeon Elementary and Vickers Elementary schools.

The change was brought about by the federal takeover of the local Head Start operations in August.

"This summer, there were changes in Head Start fiscal management and the Victoria school district continued its relationship on an interim basis," said Diane Boyett, school district spokesperson. "We operated under the same general guidelines, but were not able to achieve a memorandum of understanding. We felt it would not be appropriate to continue without one."

Community Development Institute, a national interim management contractor, is now running the Head Start program.

"We have been able to continue programs without any loss of services," said Boyett. "We didn't miss a beat in the classroom. For the most part, it was totally seamless."

THE TRANSITION

Victoria Head Start has more than 600 children enrolled in six counties in the Crossroads.

Advocates for Children and Families, which had run Head Start since 1997, was suspended from operating the program in August.

The suspension, the result of a report issued in late May by the Office of the Inspector General, came because of various financial issues.

Evelyn Burleson, board president for Advocates for Children and Families, said the transition was a smooth one.

"As far as I know, the transition to CDI during this period has been seamless with CDI operating in the same centers with basically the same employees, serving the same families and children as if Advocates was still operating," Burleson said.

Burleson said that all Head Start employees, except executive director Joyce Hyak, were offered a job with CDI.

"In October, the federal government placed Advocates for Children and Families in the termination process, and we are appealing this decision," Burleson said.

Federal spokesman Kenneth Wolfe of the Office of Public Affairs, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said there is no set timetable for the termination process.

"If there is termination, we have an interim grantee - CDI - that provides Head Start education and services," he said.

SETTLING IN

For those students who were in Head Start on the DeLeon and Vickers campuses, that education and those services are now offered to them as VISD pre-kindergarten students.

Boyett said all Head Start students on district campuses qualified for pre-kindergarten.

"The overwhelming majority were able to continue as Pre-K students," she said.

Castro was concerned about the affect the change might have on her daughter, now 5.

"One of my biggest concerns was that she was adapted to her friends and I was afraid they were going to leave," Castro said. "We weren't sure what kids were going stay, which families were going to leave."

Castro said her daughter and most of her friends also enrolled in the school district's pre-kindergarten program. The only change Castro has noticed is the lack of life skills being taught as they were in Head Start.

"My daughter likes it now that she is used to it," Castro said. "It was just unsettling at first."

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