Head Start is falling behind. At this point of the year for pre-school, children should be drawing turkeys with their handprints and assembling brightly colored bands of construction-paper feathers.
But not for Head Start children in Moore County. Or Montgomery County. Or Stanly County. The non-profit operation that won the contract this past summer to provide Head Start classrooms in those three counties — Save the Children — hasn’t opened the first door yet in any of those three counties.
In fact, when we checked the state’s registry of Head Start programs earlier this week, Save the Children had yet to even get a temporary license to operate in any of the three counties. It has a temporary license to operate a single Head Start program in Concord, and it’s already recorded several violations in the few months it’s been open.
This is, at best, an ignominious start in North Carolina for such a large, internationally renowned organization, which has built a reputation for raising — and spending — hundreds of millions of dollars in the name of helping children.
Until last year, Moore County had four Head Start programs serving about 150 children from low-income families in Aberdeen, Southern Pines, Taylortown and Vass. The federal government funds Head Start, an all-day program that typically follows the traditional school calendar. The program provides comprehensive educational, health, social and family engagement services to address the developmental needs of at-risk children.
To be sure, the prior agency that operated Head Start here and in Montgomery and Stanly counties had its own problems. Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency, which ran Head Start in Moore County for the last 25 years, had piled up budget deficits in excess of $1 million. It forced teachers and staff to take pay cuts to help make up the difference but simply couldn’t get out of the hole
This past summer, the agency retrenched and backed out of Moore, Montgomery and Stanly. The federal government awarded a $3.5 million grant through 2024 to Save the Children. The agency has run Head Start programs since 2011, but only in rural areas of Arkansas, Louisiana and North Dakota.
Save the Children is no small outfit. According to its 2017 990 federal tax return, it took in more than $759 million and ended the year with almost $40 million after expenses.
When it won the North Carolina contract this summer, Save the Children bragged in a news release that, “As one of a few multi-state Head Start providers in the country, Save the Children is able to achieve cost savings through scale. We draw on the rich early childhood expertise of our staff and lead training and mentoring opportunities. Plus, as a Head Start provider that focuses exclusively on rural America, we are proud to build early childhood development capacity in communities that need it most.”
Except that, so far in Moore, Montgomery and Stanly counties, it hasn’t.
Save the Children
What’s Save the Children’s reason? The public relations person hasn’t returned The Pilot’s calls, nor has Save the Children executive director for Head Start Khari Garvin, nor the agency’s North Carolina Head Start director Chris Felder. And if you call the number for Save the Children’s office in Concord, it goes straight to voice mail.
Oh, and that Save the Children Cabarrus Head Start in Concord? The state made announced visits in August and September and found no problems. But at the unannounced visit Oct. 22, inspectors found four violations, including issues of sanitation and a lack of sufficient materials for children.
This is no way to run a massively important education initiative, especially for the children most in need of early intervention. While this massive agency continues to noodle around the edges, hundreds of underprivileged children are going without daily reading, math lessons and social interactions. Save the Children needs to start living up to its name.