Staying Ahead

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STN talks with Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, the newest director of the Office of Head Start and an expert on issues affecting migrant and seasonal preschool students, on how the federal program continues to evolve and can benefit from increased funding.

School Transportation News: How does your background in migrant and seasonal Head Start help you prepare for your new position? What are the lessons learned from heading the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association that can help improve overall federal Head Start administration?

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes: First, I’d like to start off by saying that I am truly honored to be the new director of the Office of Head Start. My background as an early child care specialist, Head Start fellow and as the executive director of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association gives me a unique perspective. It provides a valuable opportunity to know and understand first hand how the field feels when new policies or guidelines are handed down from Washington. It also gives me an important background to understand not only the needs of Head Start programs, but also the needs of the children and families we are dedicated to serving.

I also want to say that everyone in the Administration for Children and Families — from Assistant Secretary Carmen Nazario down to my office — has extensive background in early childhood education and development that will guide us as we work every day. We are all dedicated to helping families achieve economic success, supporting healthy and comprehensive child development and improving the institutional capacity of the Office of Head Start to better serve children and families.

STN: What issues are you seeing for Head Start funding related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?

YSF: As I’ve traveled the country visiting Head Start communities and speaking with people in the field, I’ve been able to see first hand how the President’s stimulus money has had a direct impact on the local communities. Whether it’s been local programs hiring additional staff or centers buying additional goods and services from their local communities — not only have additional children and families been served by this stimulus, but economically hard hit communities from Harrisburg to Spokane are seeing a boost.

STN: How is your office able to champion efforts to increase Head Start funding? What is the role of the National Head Start Association?

YSF: I’m part of a team here at the Administration for Children and Families that is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families every day. By bringing back stories from local communities and highlighting how Head Start has changed lives is one of the best ways to show the effectiveness of the program. I would say that the role of the National Head Start Association is to be a voice and an advocate for the entire Head Start community.

STN: How can local Head Start agencies further the causes of the program nationwide?

YSF: Being that Head Start is the longest and largest federally funded program dedicated to improving the lives of children and families — Head Start will continue to serve as the foundation and national laboratory for promoting best practices in the field of early childhood development and education. With that in mind — I’m asking everyone, from Head Start directors and staff, to parents to past program participants to tell their story every day on how Head Start has impacted their lives. By sharing our stories and promoting our best practices — local Head Start programs will not only further the cause of the program but will also educate those that might not be familiar with Head Start about this national program that has helped more 25 million children in its 45 year history.

STN: What are ways that local centers can ensure continuation of or implementation of school bus transportation?

YSF: This is one area where Head Start programs and local schools can work collaboratively with their community partnerships to ensure the continuation or implementation of school bus transportation.

STN: What are the hot topics going into the new year that Head Start will be addressing?

YSF: I think you’ll see a lot of topics being worked on currently and in the New Year. We’re going to be monitoring and reporting on the success stories and improved services that have come out of the President’s ARRA funding. We will also be enhancing the Head Start Program Performance Standards to set a high level of quality that all programs will be held accountable to so that we can ensure that our most vulnerable children are receiving the highest quality services. We’ll also be focusing on ongoing child assessment to inform and develop classroom instruction, and different ways to enhance parent involvement and engagement.

STN: Thank you.