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Shortly after accepting a $42 million federal grant Tuesday for Head Start and Early Head Start in San Bernardino County, Preschool Services Department Director Diana Alexander called the state of the programs “excellent,” but said the High Desert is seen as one area in most need of growth and staffing.
The award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services includes $2.1 million in restored funding previously lost to sequestration and will dramatically support the programs’ $53 million budget for fiscal year 2014-15.
The Preschool Services Department (PSD) will back the remaining $10 million that’s needed through in-kind volunteers, donated services and reduced rates for goods and services, according to a county staff report.
Alexander said the Head Start programs are one of few federally-funded initiatives to get money back that had been foregone in sequestration, and she said it’s a credit to bipartisan support and President Barack Obama’s push of early childhood education.
“The tide has changed in the way that everyone is looking at Head Start,” she said.
In December 2012, the Department of Heath and Human Services released a negative report of the $8 billion nationwide programs, saying a Congressionally-mandated evaluation indicated Head Start and Early Head Start had little to no impact on social, emotional, cognitive, health or parenting practices of families.
Results of the survey, which was completed in 2008, weren’t published until four years later.
But Alexander said she disagreed with the assessment and that the county’s internal data shows positive results.
“We work with our children and we have data that shows how our children have progressed through our scales,” she said.
She also pointed to glowing reviews by parents of the roughly 6,000 children enrolled at the programs’ 42 facilities countywide. However, she acknowledged that more emphasis was needed on transitioning kids 5 and under into K-12 schooling.
An ongoing collaboration between the early education programs and primary schools should help “bridge the gap,” she said.
As part of enacting the Countywide Vision, a group of community, business, government and education leaders formed five task forces to develop strategies for aiding students at all levels, county officials reported last October.
It’s “vitally important ...for us to have a deep connection and collaboration with the K-12 schools,” Alexander said. “Our goal is for us all to be on the same page.”
She also said Head Start officials were mulling studying kids through third grade who were once in the programs to better monitor the programs’ impact.
A large portion of the $42 million federal award, approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors, will support 700 or so staff members, 42 leased facilities, school supplies, meals, immunizations and dental, hearing and mental health services for students, she said.
There are currently 11 Head Start facilities in the High Desert — four of which also offer Early Head Start. Certain zip codes in the region in need of growth and more staffing have recently been targeted by officials.
They include 92340, 92344, 92345 in Hesperia; 92301 in Adelanto; 92307 and 92308 in Apple Valley; and 92394, 92395, 92392 and 92393 in Victorville, according to county Human Services spokeswoman C.L. Lopez.
“I foresee there will be a lot more expansion opportunities,” Alexander said. “For us, the future’s looking bright.”
Shea Johnson may be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.