GALLIPOLIS — The Gallia County Local School District was recently chosen among 12 schools across the country to take part in a national program focused on creating a model system for the integration of Head Start programs with public schools.
Head Start is a federal program within the US Department of Health and Human Services which provides a variety of services to low-income families for early childhood education, nutrition, parent involvement and more.
According to Gallia Local School District Director of Preschool and Educational Management Systems Scot West, the coming school year will be the fifth year county schools have been in collaboration with local Head Start programs.
“We opened our preschool program and it was going to impact (the local) Head Start in a bad way because, before we opened, Head Start was serving kids in the county and (Gallipolis) at the Guiding Hand site,” said West. “We knew that when we opened those kids would choose to come to the closer school in their communities. So, Head Start approached us about collaborating and what they could do to join us because they felt there were services they could continue to provide. We did that and the current situation is that we have a contract to provide instructional services and we find 74 students that are Head Start eligible and Head Start provides its services.”
Heart of the Valley Head Start has partnered with the district and provides teaching assistants for the school district’s preschool rooms, said West, along with other connecting services.
“Every classroom has a teacher and a teaching assistant,” said West. “All the kids are integrated so we have kids that are funded through some special education money and kids through Head Start. Some pay tuition and some are funded through a grant we received two years ago…We don’t have a Head Start room or a Gallia room. Our kids receive the same services in the least restrictive environment. They’re the same rooms.”
Because the collaboration had continued over the last few years, the district has been asked to participate in state panels regarding education. The Heart of the Valley Head Start, West said, had been considered a spotlight school for its collaboration efforts as well.
West said he was contacted by the Ohio Department of Education and encouraged to apply for a federal integration program. Reportedly, Head Start Director Dr. Deborah Bergeron was seeking ways to advance Head Start collaborations in a public setting and Gallia Local School District was recommended as a test program by the state.
The county schools are now one of 12 across the country which are looking to design model programs to integrate Head Start programs within a public school setting.
“Of the 12, we were the only one that had a collaboration that was already integrated,” said West.
West said having children already in preschool and at the tips of needed services makes the transition easier into a public kindergarten setting and the district intends to maximize its potential by involving different community partners to speak with families.
“It might not be so innovative in exactly what we’re planning, like we’ve always had parent and teacher conferences, so much as the people we are bringing to the table,” said West.
Over four quarters in a school year, the district plans to have families, students and teachers meet so that goals and checkpoints can be discussed. Leader-in-Me program connections will be made with a student’s potential upcoming principal and kindergarten teacher and then families will meet with Head Start officials. Parent Teacher Organization leaders will meet with parents about their child and lastly families will be introduced to community service connections such as the Gallia Health Department and more.
Gallia Local School District and the local Head Start collaboration will reportedly present to federal officials in the planned year’s third quarter to discuss the local collaboration’s progress.
“Our expertise when we look at Head Start and Gallia Local, Gallia Local’s expertise is the education side of it,” said West, “that encompasses family engagement. They (Head Start) are all about the family and what they can do to support the family beyond just the education piece and we’ve been wanting to improve that, so that’s our plan.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.