Moore County families hoping to enroll their children in Head Start have been left in limbo in this year’s interagency transfer of the federally-funded preschool program.
Centers in Aberdeen, Southern Pines, Taylortown and Vass that for decades have offered full-day preschool at no cost to the children of low-income families remain shuttered and without signs of activity two months after they would traditionally have started a new year.
In early August, the federal government awarded a $3.5 million grant to Save the Children Federation, Inc. to operate Head Start in Moore, Montgomery and Stanly counties beginning this fall. The Connecticut-based agency also received a separate grant to run programs in Cabarrus County.
At that time, Save the Children executive director for Head Start Khari Garvin said that the agency anticipated that programs would resume by early October, serving about 130 children in Moore County. That’s down from 150 in years past. The agency also plans to reduce the number of Moore County Head Start centers from four to two.
But as of yet none of the centers have reopened, and parents have received little clear information about when they will — or even whether their children will have a place when they do.
To be sure her twin daughters would be able to attend Head Start in Aberdeen as soon as they turned three, Tashi Whitney applied in August of 2018 for the current school year. At the time, the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency managed Head Start in Moore and four other central North Carolina counties as they had done since the early 1990s.
Though that agency had encountered financial difficulties in recent years, parents had no indication that Head Start stood to be under new management. SRCAA continues to operate Head Start programs in Rowan and Davidson counties.
Whitney said that she was assured as recently as this past May that her daughters were enrolled in Head Start for this fall.
“I was told the girls were accepted and that I would receive a letter in the mail and an email, but I never received either of those,” she said.
“Around August is when I really started looking into it and whether my girls would be able to go, because I really wanted them to go to Head Start versus a daycare. In the process I saw other parents were experiencing the same thing. Their kids had gone the previous year and they still hadn’t heard anything.”
The Pilot has been unable to reach Garvin or Save The Children’s North Carolina Head Start director Chris Felder, for an update on the program’s status. In August, Garvin said that the agency was pursuing licensure with the N.C. Department of Child Development and Early Education, securing leases on the Head Start centers, and hiring and certifying staff.
Whitney said that she’s had to leave her children with family members as her school schedule and her their father’s work schedule demand. Though she spoke to Felder earlier this month, at the time he offered no definite answers about opening dates or whether or not her daughters will be enrolled.
“I really want them to go to a Head Start because I want them to actually learn something and be ready to transition to kindergarten when it’s time, but I was left in the dark about the whole situation,” she said.
Save the Children is working to take over the lease of the Head Start center on Glasgow Street, which is owned by the Town of Aberdeen. Salisbury-Rowan director Rocky Cabagnot formally relinquished that agency’s interest in the property in a Sept. 4 letter to Town Manager Paul Sabiston. SRCAA maintained and insured the property under a special warranty deed as long as it operated a Head Start program there.
Garvin requested in a Sept. 18 letter that the town enter into a similar arrangement with Save the Children, which would allow the agency to use the facility at no cost as long as it provides Head Start programming. The Aberdeen Town Commissioners briefly discussed the proposal, and are expected to consider approving the lease at their regular meeting next week.