September 20, 2012
Parents rallied and held a press conference to highlight the unnecessarily rough transition as program oversight passes from CDI Head Start—the temporary operator of these programs for the past several years—to Volunteers of America. By federal mandate, these parents are supposed to be highly involved leaders of their Head Start programs. Instead, they have been completely shut out of this process. Parents, teachers, and others deeply concerned about continuity of care have been pleading that classrooms not be disrupted. Last month, parents delivered nearly 500 signatures asking that existing staff be kept on at their Head Start centers. Recently, they were joined by Head Start staff, many of whom have served generations of families in our communities.
While Head Start programs all over Southern California opened their doors weeks ago, enabling parents to get to their jobs and attend their own classes, Greater Emmanuel Head Start in Lynwood and other community Head Start centers remain locked up. The new operator, Volunteers of America (VOA), has left families completely in the dark with no advance warning that they should seek other arrangements for child care or of the drastic changes to schedules, staff, and programs. At this late date, alternatives, such as transitional kindergarten, have no more spaces for affected children.
“My little girl thrived last year in Head Start,” said parent Tamara Jones. “I chose to leave her in Head Start because we were so happy with it. But when August rolled around and I still had not heard anything from Volunteers of America, I started to get nervous. When I called and couldn’t get any answers, I enrolled my daughter in transitional kindergarten. It wasn’t my first choice, but it became my only option.”
Families have relied on these community Head Start centers for decades. Highly qualified staff members, with more than 3,000 years of combined experience, who have served generations of families, have not even been offered interviews. There was no explanation for why these changes were necessary. And there is still—weeks later—no definite start date. Families, staff, and community leaders are fed up with this sloppy transition
“I was fortunate enough to get hired,” said teacher Samantha Sareth. “But my co-teacher wasn’t. She has years of experience, a Masters degree, and knows this community. I’m sad, frustrated, and so confused. We ran a wonderful classroom together. What is the process for making these decisions? I’ve always believed it doesn’t make sense to ‘fix’ something that isn’t broken.”