Head Start looking for a new boss | CraigDailyPress.com

Head Start looking for a new boss

Program given one year to find local leadership

Ryan Sheridan

The Craig Head Start program has one year to find new management after Rocky Mountain SER, the Head Start oversight organization for Northwest Colorado based in Grand Junction, extended a threatened deadline to close the program.

The local Head Start program had been scheduled to be shut down at the end of this month, but discussions between Rocky Mountain SER, the Moffat County School District and representatives from the Early Childhood Coalition Thursday postponed any closures. The Grand Junction office is allowing an extra year for the community to find a way to manage the program locally.

The main reason behind the closure plan is the difficulty of running the Head Start program in Craig from the Grand Junction office. Rocky Mountain SER Head Start Director Judy Lopez said the problem lies in the need for constant monitoring that federal requirements for the program are being met. The 150-mile gap between Craig and Grand Junction make those verifications problematic.

“Head Start is a community-based program, and local input and oversight is vital to make a program succeed,” she said. “Because it is a federal program and their are many federal requirements, there needs to someone there locally to make sure those requirements are being met.”

The program will be managed by the Grand Junction office for another year while a system of local management is devised.

“After some talking with the (Moffat County) school district, we won’t have to close down after all, which is good,” Lopez said. “We will be beginning the discussions on how to keep the (Head Start) program working in Craig.”

For six years, the Head Start program in Craig has worked with needy children to prepare them for school.

According to Head Start, children from low-income homes, children with learning disabilities, children from single-parent homes, and children whose primary language is not English participate in classes, activities and programs that are aimed at laying the groundwork so these future students will have the skills and knowledge they need.

“Preschool is undoubtedly important. A solid preschool experience contributes to the success of the students,” Moffat County School District Superintendent Pete Bergmann said. “And the Hispanic population is impacting our schools every day, and when those Hispanic students have a year of English previous to kindergarten it gives them a much better chance for success.

“The implications are that if the Craig Head Start were closed we could not handle the students that the program serves. It would be like me saying Ridgeview was closed, and those students had to go to East and Sunset Elementary.”

Bergmann said he could not give an estimate as to what the possible cost of running the program would be that is part of the information that will be looked at, he said.

Head Start is a federally funded program that was created in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

The Craig program currently serves 34 local children 17 in morning classes and 17 in afternoon classes.

The teachers and teachers’ assistants are bilingual. The classes are filled first by the most needy cases, and then by availability.

For the Craig Head Start to be managed by a local entity, there are cost and organization issues to be addressed, based on the more than 400 performance requirements the federal program must meet, said Sarah Hepworth, director of the Early Childhood Center.

“Hopefully by the middle or end of the next school year, we’ll have a plan in place to facilitate the transfer (of management),” she said. “During that year the school district and community need to figure out who can take on the oversight role and contract with the Rocky Mountain SER to run the program. That may or may not be the school district.”

Hepworth said if the program were managed locally the services wouldn’t change because of all the federal requirements, but how the operation functioned or is organized could change drastically or not at all.

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