Head Start

The Dothan City Schools Head Start Preschool Center is shown in this file photo.

A deficiency noted during a 2015 class review is forcing the Dothan City Schools Head Start program to win a competitive grant valued at more than $2.4 million to continue operation at its Powell Street location and several Houston County schools before the 2020-2021 school year.

In 2015, a Faine Head Start classroom received a “deficiency on a program review,” which triggered the program to be subjected to a competitive-award process, according to an Office of Head Start (OHS) report.

Head Start programs on grant money operate under several guidelines, one being that the “grantee must ensure that all staff, consultants and volunteers abide by the program's standards of conduct. One of the standards specified that “no child will be left alone or unsupervised while under their care.”

A report stated that an infraction occurred in April 2015, when a teacher and teaching assistant left a child unattended in the bathroom. A corrective action plan was written following the incident.

For 40 years, the Head Start program operating under DCS has been awarded federal grant money to serve children of families who meet federal poverty guidelines.

“I think we have set precedence…we have a good track record,” Yolanda Vincent, director of the DCS Head Start project, said. “We have a good review record, and we expect to not have any problems.”

Vincent said teachers consistently perform high on assessments and while losing the grant is always a possibility, Vincent believes the DCS Head Start program will win the 5-year grant.

Before 2007, if a preschool began a Head Start program, its position would be infinite, according to Vincent, who has worked for the program for 34 years.

The Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 called for Head Start and Early Head Start programs of “low-quality” to compete with other early learning providers for continued funding in their communities.

In 2011, the OHS released a final rule on designation renewal and launched the Designation Renewal System (DRS). The DRS is based on seven triggers that could cause programs to have to compete for continued funding.

The program depends on funds from the Administration for Children and Families to fund 80 percent of its program. The grant requires that 20 percent match comes from local funds. Last year, more than $660,000 came from local funding.

The last 5-year grant ends on Sept. 30, 2019, but the program was granted interim prorated funding through June 30 of next year.

The re-competition grant recently opened for applications to all public or private non-profit organizations, including community-based and faith-based organizations, or for-profit organizations that want to compete for funds available to provide Head Start and/or Early Head Start services to children and families residing in Dothan, Rehoboth, Webb, Cottonwood and Ashford.

The program currently serves 277 children at the Head Start Center in downtown Dothan, 20 in each classroom in Ashford and Rehobeth, and 15 each at Cottonwood and Webb locations.

The Houston County Board of Education gives around $178,000 to the DCS to manage its classrooms.

The OHS estimates that two grants will be awarded on June 30, 2020.

The Regional Head Start Office recently awarded funds to DCS to reimburse costs to help eliminate asbestos and mold inside its Powell Street location that was discovered during a routine risk assessment.

Additionally, another grant from the regional office will allow a new LED sign to be erected in front on the building to increase visibility of the location, as well as upgrading cameras and creating funds to provide anger management counseling to students who have difficulty adjusting.

In other business, the school board discussed a new policy that would encourage student-related organizations such as PTOs, PTAs and booster clubs to go through the school to deposit funds. The organizations would receive the benefit of the school’s tax-exempt status, an online fee payment system through LeanStream to help fundraise, and be included in the school’s annual audit report.

If organization leaders choose to keep the funds out of the school’s account, they will have to pay for an annual audit of financial records.

DCS Chief Financial Officer Mike Manuel said it would help add a layer of protection for the people who manage the organizations. Last year, a couple of organizations were referred to law enforcement for possible criminal action related to finances.

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