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City, School Committee relinquishes Head Start

Date: 2/2/2010

Feb. 3, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Superintendent Shirley Alvira wanted to make clear that services for children are a top priority; however, the school department and School Committee have no choice but to surrender the Head Start grant.

The School Committee voted in favor of relinquishing the grant in order to allow a more suitable facilitator take over the role, Mayor Daniel Knapik explained to Reminder Publications.

Barbara Glanville, director of Westfield Head Start, refused to comment on the status of the program, which services 250 children from low-income households in Westfield, Agawam, Southwick and West Springfield.

"The School Committee's senior members were of the belief that the city should not be in this business," he said. "[This program] would be better in the hands of a specific [early childhood] service provider.

"The city's mission is K through 12 education and our hands are filled to provide that service," Knapik continued. "There are agencies better suited to manage programs such as these.

He said the program is also running a significant deficit, which the city cannot supplement. Knapik said steps have already been taken to reduce the program's operating budget.

He noted Westfield is only one of two municipalities in the Commonwealth to act as Head Start's grantee. Knapik added most grants are administered by non-profit agencies.

Alvira explained the transition process to find a new grantee would take approximately one year, aided by the Federal Administration for Children and Families.

"This Friday, I've invited the [Administration] of Children and Families so that people [can] get that information [about the transition] from the horse's mouth," she said.

"They don't come in with a hatchet and throw everybody out," Alvira continued. "A transition takes a year with an independent, objective team to find what's the best for the [Head Start] program. Those are things that the School Department is not in a position of doing right now."

Alvira cautioned the School Committee's decision to relinquish the position of grantee "has nothing to do with [Head Start's] staff or management performance."

Knapik said, "We will work very closely with the both the Administration for Children and Families and the transition team to meet these goals [of maintaining a stable Head Start program] and to preserve existing staff and the quality of wages and benefits. All staff will have the opportunity to be considered for positions with SDI and an onsite representative will meet with each staff member to review the particulars."

He noted closeout costs won't be covered by the city taxpayers, rather the Federal Head Start program.