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Head Start Champions of Change

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June 18, 2012
Washington, DC

Over nearly 5 decades, Head Start has changed the lives of more than 28 million children and their families by putting them on the path to succeed in school.

This progress was built on a foundation laid by people like Dr. Ed Ziglar who, as the founding director of the agency we now call the Administration for Children and Families, was a driving force behind Head Start in its early days. I’m sorry Dr. Ziglar couldn’t be here today, but we can see his influence all around us.

I also want to recognize Dr. T. Berry Brazleton who has been a tireless advocate for families with young children, particularly through his vision for Early Head Start.

But the deep impact of Head Start over the years is also due to the commitment of countless dedicated teachers, program directors, parents, and principals like the champions here today.

When Head Start launched, we had a basic idea that a child’s early years were critical. Since then, research has shown just how true that is.

The most rapid development in our children’s brains happens in their first five years. That is also when our children pick up social, emotional, and early academic skills that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.

And as so many of you have shown, day in and day out, the children who get the support they need during these early years are the most prepared for kindergarten, which means they’re the most likely to succeed in the early grades, and beyond. What we’ve seen is that early learning programs like Head Start can set off a chain reaction of success that follows children through every stage of their lives.

That’s the power of the work that you do. And that’s why the Obama Administration has made a historic commitment to early childhood education, starting with Head Start.

Through investments in the Recovery Act, we doubled the size of Early Head Start, and made Head Start available to 61,000 more children. And even in difficult budgetary times, when we’re being forced to make so many cuts we don’t want to make, we’ve fought to preserve the funding for these additional children.

But we’re not just investing more resources in our early childhood system.  We’re also putting a new focus on quality. 

We’re implementing teacher training that puts the best, evidence-based strategies in every Head Start classroom.  We are working with Head Start programs to engage parents in their children’s educational success and to create better connections between Head Start programs and elementary schools.

And we’re also taking steps to evaluate Head Start and Early Head Start programs against a set of clear, high expectations and to hold programs accountable if they aren’t meeting the grade. 

Under the new policies, if a program isn’t meeting benchmarks, it must compete against other entities for funding. We believe competition will lead current grantees and new applicants to take a step back, evaluate how they can deliver a higher quality program to children, and innovate in their classrooms. The first set of applications under the new competition system is due this summer and we look forward to reviewing them.

Now we aren’t done working to improve Head Start. If we want to out-educate and out-compete the rest of the world, we have to continue looking for new ideas and best practices. 

That’s why we recently announced plans to test a new approach in five communities. Organizations that want to develop a comprehensive birth-to-five Head Start program will have the choice of applying for both Head Start and Early Head Start funds at once through a coordinated application.

Our goal is to see if this option fosters new, innovative models that better integrate Head Start and Early Head Start Programming -- while recognizing that children in some communities may be better served by organizations that focus on either independently.

Taken together, these efforts have a clear goal – to help every child reach his or her full potential.  We’re here today, not just to recognize those of you who bring us closer to that goal through your own work – but also to hear from you. What works and what doesn’t? How can we continue to support and strengthen Head Start? And early education more broadly?

We’re doing everything we can across the federal government. But we know that what ultimately make an early education program succeed are the tireless people working on the ground every day: Those teachers with that magic ability to make a 4-year old sit still and focus. The mentors who spend their free time honing lesson plans. And the site supervisors who work long hours to make sure all their kids get the check-ups and vaccinations they need.

This commitment runs through so many Head Start programs across the country. And it shines bright in the Champions of Change here today.

I’d like to close by thanking and congratulating them individually. As I read your name, please stand and be recognized.

Today’s Head Start Champions of Change are:

  • Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus, Harvard Medical School
  • Ms. Caren Calhoun, Director, Tulsa Educare
  • Ms. Renetta Goeson, Director, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Head Start and Early Head Start
  • Ms. Rosemary Grier, Head Start Teacher and Mentor/Coach, Baraga Houghton Keweenaw Child Development Board
  • Ms. Roxanne Hiller, Site Supervisor and Teacher, Resource Connection Head Start Program
  • Ms. Lori Pittman, Family Support Coordinator, Puget Sound Educational Service District
  • Dr. Rory Sipp, Director, Acelero  Learning, Clark County
  • Ms. Joy Trejo Senior Director of Early Childhood and Family Service Programs, The Campagna Center
  • Ms. Angelica Vilaverde  , Early Head Start Teacher, Southwest Human Development Early Head Start and Head Start (Educare)
  • Ms. Lourdes Villanueva, Director of Farmworker Advocacy, Redlands Christian Migrant Association
  • Ms. Ginger West, Parent, Learning Center for Families Early Head Start

Congratulations. And thank you all for your leadership and service.