Shelby County Schools administrators said Tuesday they will use their control of the city’s Head Start program to emphasize reading skills, teacher accountability and kindergarten readiness for low-income Memphis children under five.
The board on Tuesday accepted $33 million in federal and state grants to take over the area’s Head Start program which serves around 5,000 low-income students educational, health and social services throughout the day. That’s 2,000 students more than Shelby County served when it ran the program last year.
“We have a unique opportunity to place high, rigorous standards in our early childhood programs…” Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said Tuesday.
Superintendent Hopson said Tuesday that the Head Start grant gives the district the opportunity to place high, rigorous standards in more early childhood programs and select better contractors to oversee some of the classes.
Along with its already-existing voluntary pre-K classes, the district will now offer more than 100 early education classes by this fall, some that will be operated by contracted partners including Kindercare, Kiddie College and Great Adventures. The district also uses money out of its operating budget and from the Federal Race to the Top grant to pay for pre-K classes. Those pots of money have been strained in recent years.
DeAnna McClendon, the district’s Early Childhood Program Manager said all Head Start classes this fall will look more similar to the district’s K-12 academic programs and have a stronger emphasis on reading and higher standards for pre-K teachers. Officials on Tuesday showed board members a rubric in which students will be measured on their language and reading acquisition throughout the year.
McClendon also said the district would hire additional positions to assure program quality including a data compliance advisor and assistant, an education analyst, a strategic initiatives manager and three early childhood instructional advisors.
Some of the county’s approximately 350 Head Start workers attended last month’s board meeting amid concerns that they could lose their jobs or suffer a reduction in benefits.
But Netra Weatherby, a Head Start family services advocate said she was told teachers would still have their jobs at the same rate of pay. Weatherby thanked Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II after Tuesday’s meeting.