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Mel Gravely

The Secret to Head Start Success – Part 1 (Introduction)

For the 40 years that I’ve been working to enhance the early lives of young people and the adults that support them, it’s been a special privilege and pleasure to serve the Head Start community.

The mission of Head Start is to promote school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through education, health, nutrition, social and other services for children and families. I wonder if President Lyndon B. Johnson imagined when he declared the War on Poverty and signed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964 paving the way for Project Head Start in 1965, that Head Start would eventually enroll more than 27 million children since 1965.

Could Johnson foresee his initiative would serve over 900,000 toddlers, preschoolers, infants and pregnant women in 2010 alone?

Did Johnson envision that in 1972 when a small 10% was set aside to serve children with disabilities, the move would result in 11.5 percent of the children served by Head Start in 2010 would have disabilities such as mental retardation, visual handicaps, hearing impairments, speech and language impairments, alongside learning disabilities?

There have been so many children successfully served by Head Start programs, and there will always be more children, families, and communities to serve.

Unlike pre-kindergarten, only families at or below the poverty line have access to Head Start. And most importantly — Head Start focuses on the whole child, while pre-K focuses most specifically on the academic development of the child. This means, we know part of what makes Head Starts successful is that it does more for children, families and communities than pre-kindergarten, but like most federally funded programs, we are charged with demonstrating that we provide vital and necessary services to our most vulnerable: our children. Our children are counting on us to improve, be better and unlock the secrets that continue to make Head Start successful.

We know there are some secrets that continue to withstand the tests of time, presidencies and generations.
● Performance Standards
● Team Building
● Parent Participation

These three secrets continue to make Head Start successful for the 27 million children the program has served. But what we know is that it takes constant focus and attention in each area equally to serve the next 27 million. Over the next several weeks in a four-part series of blogs, I’d like to focus on more ways to improve performance standards, team building, and parent participation, so Head Start continues its success.

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