LA County Office of Education forced Kedren Head Start closure, says Waters

Maxine Waters speaking outside the LACOE meeting on Tuesday. | Stephanie Monte

Maxine Waters speaking outside the LACOE meeting on Tuesday. | Stephanie Monte

Congresswoman Maxine Waters demanded a federal investigation of the L.A. County Office of Education on Tuesday, saying the office strong-armed the CEO of Kedren Head Start to give up its contract and close about 30 centers.

Kedren serves roughly 2,200 children at Head Start facilities located in South Los Angeles communities including Watts.

Waters told families and press gathered outside the Board of Education meeting in Downey that LACOE forced the President of Kedren, John Griffith, to make a decision in less than two hours.

“What they do is intimate the directors of these delegate agencies,” said Waters. “They tell them if they don’t give up their contract, that somehow it’s going to be even worse off for the program.”

See also on Intersections: Children’s Institute to take over Kedren Head Start centers in South LA 

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Children’s Institute to take over Head Start centers in South LA

Headstart | Stephanie Monte

Families protest the close of Kedren Head Start at its offices in Watts. | Stephanie Monte

Parents, children, and employees gathered outside Kedren Head Start in Watts yesterday to protest Kedren’s move to pull out of L.A. County’s Head Start program, a decision that comes on the heels of news that the County is losing federal funding for the preschool program designed to aid low-income families.

The L.A. County Department of Education said services will continue as usual once Children’s Institute takes over for Kedren. The two are among a couple of dozen program operators in the county. Kedren runs close to 30 centers with many in South L.A., including several in Watts alone.

Keisha Woods, L.A. County’s Head Start director, said programs will still be offered for families from Watts, Burbank and South Park even thought Kedren relinquished its grant.

“Every returning child…will have a space in the program as with their siblings,” said Woods. However, she said the department is still “working out” just where the sites will be and the number of students each can accommodate.

Josie Calderon, a parent and vice president of Head Start’s policy council, said her biggest concern is that there will be almost 300 fewer slots for children.

“Out of 727 children served here, only 450 children will be able to be served,” said Calderon.

Her four-year-old son Jaden keeps busy with a variety of activities at one of Kedren’s Head Start centers in Watts.

“We learn about puzzles, drawing, we have the art area, the play-doh area, the house area, and the library,” said Jaden. If the program, which is close to his home, shuts down, the boy said he guessed he would just “stay home.”

Nina Revoyr, executive vice president of Children’s Institute, said her organization is committed to keeping services in South L.A.

“It’s not that Head Start services in Watts are stopping. It’s that Kedren is not going to be providing them because LACOE is not continuing their funding,” she said. “It’s a natural fit for us to continue to serve Head Start families here in Watts including the housing developments, which I know is a great concern for the families here.”

Kedren’s contract with L.A. County ends June 30.

Pending sequestration may affect California’s Head Start program

By Sarah Politis

Listen to an audio by Annenberg Radio News

Pending federal cuts as part of the March sequestration will affect many federal programs. Head Start, a federally-funded preschool for low-income families is one of those programs facing budget cuts.

While there are thousands of children who are part of the program, Philipa Johnson, Interim Director for the Head Start Program at USC said there are 577 children and families in the USC program alone. image

“We’re addressing a need in the community which is to provide quality services to families and high quality education to children from birth to age 5,” Johnson said.

While there is nothing on paper to confirm the sequestor, Johnson is preparing for a five percent cut in funding. Johnson said these cuts would result in personnel cuts and limit the budget for student field trips.

According to a press release from Rick Mockler, the Executive Director of Head Star, an estimated 27,000 children and their families will be dropped from the program in California and about 6,000 staff members will lose their jobs.

“I don’t see where it will impact the children because we will still provide the health services, the educational services, services to children with disabilities,” Johnson said, “We’ll still provide food, nutritional serevices, we will continue providing services, so I don’t really see that, that’s really the framework of the Head Start program.”

However, Head Start isn’t the only federal program on the chopping block. Defense workers and national parks also face cuts.

Parents and teachers vent frustration at Head Start schools in South LA and Compton

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

“Can you tell me your name?”
“Ke-lonze James.”
“How old are you Ke-Lonze?”
“And what do you like better: going to school or going to work with your mom?”
“Going to work.”

imageKe-Lonze used to be a student at a Head Start preschool in Compton. But this year, things are a little different. His school is one of 21 schools in South LA that are under new management this year.

Head Start is a federal program, but at the local level it is run by other agencies. In June two organizations, Crystal Stairs and Volunteers of America took over South LA’s Head Start programs.

Parents expected their kids to start school in late August, but weeks later, a lot of schools still haven’t opened. Ke-Lonze’s school is open, but his mom, Takisha Collins says that because of limited staff and regulation changes at her son’s school, she now has to take him to work with her instead of leaving him there.

“I have no other options,” she says. He likes it, but Collins, a single mom with a full-time job, feels differently, “He bugs me the whole time, the whole eight hours he bugs me, so it’s hard.”

Today, Collins and her son weren’t at school or work, they were riding a bus around Compton with several other community members protesting the changes to the Head Start program.

The delayed start to the school year and sudden change in policies are not the only complaints the group has. For many, the biggest issue is that most of the teachers have been fired or replaced.

Pastora Alvarez-Munroa, who worked at Willowbrook Head Start in Compton until last year, said, “I received a letter through the mail after 29 years of service. It’s a slap in the face. We want our jobs back. We want to go back and work with the family and the community.”

Alvarez-Monroa came out today with other teachers, union organizers, parents, and community leaders to show her frustration with Head Start.

Volunteers of America in LA did not return our call, but the group’s organizer, Orlando Ward, told KPCC that his organization is asking parents to be patient while the schools transition to new management.

But the parents and community members at today’s event want Head Start to know that they’re not happy. Ke-Lonze’s mom, Takisha Collins said, “I just hope everything can go back to normal.”

Collins’ employer has told her she can’t keep bringing Ke-Lonze with her to work. So like many parents in the community, she hopes he can get back to school soon.