Long Beach Head Start Now 'A National Model'

Long Beach Unified School District Head Start has earned the highest of U.S. honors by meeting or exceeding all 700 federal requirements during an independent, exhaustive, evaluation and week-long review. A national expert called Long Beach Head Start "the best I’ve ever seen." "This is the very first review I’ve experienced where there were absolutely no findings of non-compliance," said Maria Fort, the federal team leader who began working in 1966 for the federal Head Start administration. "Our visit was superb and so very exciting. It was such a pleasurable week for the review team." Fort led a team of 12 reviewers from throughout the nation as they visited nine Head Start centers here. They were impressed by the excellence and dedication of the staff. "There were many, many strengths," said Fort, who has evaluated hundreds of Head Start programs. "Nowhere have I seen the kind of respect for and understanding of Head Start by a whole school district. There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ during our visit. The team member from Florida said she was ready to move to Long Beach." In the Long Beach area, Head Start assists 2,232 children and their families with 23 preschools, two Early Head Start centers and home-based services. Assistance includes education, health, nutrition, social services, and parental involvement activities for families with children five years old and younger. Members of Fort’s review team praised the school district’s top leadership for their strong support of Head Start. They commended Head Start’s parent outreach and numerous community partnerships. Head Start recruited 32 new business partners this year, more than any school or site in the district. "Your community partners are an incredible asset," Fort said. "People from the community happily give up their time to make this program better. These are doctors and nurses–-people who are really busy-–yet they are willing to help." Also singled out for recognition were Head Start’s curriculum and instruction, staff’s devotion to children, nurturing care for parents, services for pregnant women, effective staff training, health programs including services for overweight children, seamless transition of students to kindergarten, and a "thorough and unique self assessment." These strengths and local Head Start’s total compliance with all U.S. requirements set an example for others, said Jerry Gomez, associate director for Head Start in California. "Certainly any program that has no items of non-compliance is a model for the nation," he said. The U.S. government launched Head Start in 1965 to overcome the effects of poverty on preschool children and their families.