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Duval County School Board considers running Head Start

3:35 AM, May 17, 2013   |    comments
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  • Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti
    

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Head Start in Duval County has gone through a lot of changes in recent weeks. Now, the Duval County School Board wants to look at possibly running it.

The federal government suspended the Jacksonville Urban League's grant for Head Start a few weeks ago due to safety concerns. The Community Development Institute took over, and this week announced classes for 3-year-olds would end Friday, three weeks earlier than scheduled so hiring and training could take place.

That angered many parents of students in the program.

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti now said he wants to look at a possible partnership with Episcopal Children's Services to bid on the 2100 Head Start slots funded in Duval County.

He floated the idea at a school board committee meeting on Thursday morning.

The School Board agreed, as members said ECS had a great track record running Head Start. Episcopal Children's Services serves around 700 young children in Head Start programs in several outlying counties surrounding Duval County, and serves 242 in early Head Start in those counties and some in Duval.

Vitti likes the idea of getting Head Start in the lower performing schools at an early age, and eliminating the achievement gap up front.

"It means better continuity for our students at infant stages all the way to three and four year old programs eventually kindergarten. They can be connected to our schools, we can work closer with our parents in our communities," he said.

Rozeeta Skipper likes the idea. Her son Bryan is now in Head Start. She likes the idea of him going to Head Start at her neighborhood school.

"I think it is a very good idea, I mean he will get adapted, as far as the programs and the education part, it is very beneficial for him. It will help a lot," Skipper said.

Diana Lecount has a very different view. She would like to see the Urban League continue to run Head Start.

"The Duval County School Board has enough on their hands already, the kids in the Duval County School System are doing no better than Head Start. They have programs, and they have faults and difficulties just like Head Start and any other organization," Lecount said.

Lecount worries that it would hurt private businesses like hers. She runs a day care and students might opt to go elsewhere.

Board member Paula Wright asked Vitti to ask the Urban League about a partnership because they have been running it for 17 years. 

Urban League Director Richard Danforth said the Urban League has significant skills sets for running Head Start and they would certainly weight the option of a partnership with the School Board.

But Danforth also told First Coast News that his group must still decide if it would bid on running Head Start when there is a request for proposal from the federal government.

Meanwhile, Episcopal Children's Services CEO Connie Stophel said she would be very interested in talking to Vitti about a partnership running Head Start in Duval County.

First Coast News