Chancellor Dennis Walcott prepares to read to a group of 4-year-olds at the Bank Street Head Start center in November. (GothamSchools)
New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is at risk of losing a $190 million grant, after the federal government included it on a list of 132 substandard Head Start agencies across the country this week.
Head Start is the half-century-old federal preschool program for low-income children. ACS, among the oldest and largest Head Start agencies in the country, did not meet the “quality thresholds” set by the federal Office of Head Start, according to a list made public Tuesday by the Administration for Children & Families, which oversees the program.
Educators and advocates said the announcement could mean major upheaval for ACS, which serves 120,000 children and families in New York City and oversees contracts for 250 Head Start centers.
“It would have a huge impact,” said Nina Piros, director of early childhood programs for University Settlement, which runs two Head Start centers on the Lower East Side under a contract with ACS. “If ACS does lose its grant, then delegate agencies will be out of business, to put it mildly,” she added, referring to the centers that contract with ACS.
“There’s a lot of jaws that dropped,” said Steven Antonelli, administrative director of the Head Start program at the Bank Street College of Education.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott prepares to read to a group of 4-year-olds at the Bank Street Head Start center.
Using skills developed at his first job, Chancellor Dennis Walcott dropped to the floor at Manhattan's Bank Street Head Start center today and read a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to a circle of 4-year-olds.
Just as he said he had as a pre-kindergarten teacher in the 1970s, Walcott changed his voice for the different characters and acted out parts of the story, keeping the children laughing and acting along. (Watch video of the reading.)
The read-aloud came during a break in painting, mashing play dough, building with blocks, and assembling magnetic tiles — activities that look like fun and games but actually reflect the city's academic goals for pre-K students.
Those goals are set out in the city's new curriculum standards, called the Common Core, which start in pre-K. Like all city students, children in the Department of Education's pre-K classes are expected to complete Common Core-aligned "tasks" this year like the ones the DOE has suggested for units about trucks, plants, and the five senses.
Among the Common Core standards for pre-K: Students should engage in group reading activities such as the one Walcott led and practice addition and subtraction using everyday objects.
Hundreds of parents, children, and day care workers protested proposed cuts to early childhood programs today at City Hall. (GothamSchools' Flickr)
With the deadline for next year's city budget looming, elected officials are eyeing early-childhood centers slated to be cut under Mayor Bloomberg's proposed budget as a key reduction to reverse. More than a dozen officials, including two mayoral candidates and three out of five borough presidents, decried the possible cuts today at a City Hall rally alongside hundreds of parents and workers associated with the centers.
The proposal would cut the budgets of early-childhood programs and replace kindergarten programs currently operated outside of the school system with Department of Education kindergarten classes. The city says that moving the kindergartens is necessary in order to save the Administration for Children's Services $15 million.
But parents today said that the current programs cover the burden of child-care in a way that schools, which end at 3 p.m. and are shuttered on holidays, cannot. The programs at risk of being shut are operated out of ACS, the city's social services arm for children, as part of larger daycare operations. Head Start, the early childhood program, is also slated to see its budget slashed by 3 percent.
Desiree Jean-Mary said she is upset that her son, Joshua, who attends a Head Start program in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, might not be able to continue there next year when he enters kindergarten. Right now, Jean-Mary, who has two other children, picks Joshua up at 5 p.m. after her job as a home health aide is over for the day. “It would be really hard if I had to find somewhere else for him to go — I don’t want that,” she said.