Athens Review, Athens, Texas

March 21, 2013

Athens ISD will switch to pre-K

Head Start program will continue through end of this school year

Jayson Larson
The Athens Review

Athens —

The Athens Independent School District is eliminating its Head Start program and will replace it with pre-kindergarten classes beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, Superinte-ndent Blake Stiles said Wednesday.

Head Start is a federal program aimed at preparing children up to age five and from low-income families for school. Athens ISD has five Head Start classes spread out between the Bel Air and South Athens elementary campuses. Stiles said the program in Athens consists of 100 children and 10 AISD staff members — five teachers and five aides.

While automatic federal spending cuts left Athens’ Head Start program with a significant gap in funding, Stiles said the decision was based as much on the ability to have local control over the pre-school program.

Strict federal guidelines dictate how local Head Start operations are run — controlling factors from teacher-to-student ratio and curriculum to when and how long a naptime can be held, Stiles said. By transitioning to a state-based pre-K program, Athens ISD officials will have more control to make decisions they think are best for their students.

“Head Start offered some great things,” Stiles said, “but we just felt like pre-K was a better fit for us. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing for the rest of this school year, and then over the summer we’ll begin to make the transition.”

Stiles said the transition plan includes absorbing current Head Start staffers into other positions in the district as they come available. “We may have fewer total staff positions in the end,” Stiles said, “but we don’t want anybody to have to lose a job.”

Among the biggest differences between Head Start and pre-K is how a student qualifies. Head Start admits children who meet the guidelines for free lunch under National School Lunch Program guidelines. Pre-K programs, however, require a child to meet only the reduced-cost lunch standards to qualify. That, Stiles said, could mean possibly more children accepted into the program.

Class sizes are also different between the programs, with Head Start mandating a 20-to-1 teacher-to-student ratio and pre-kindergarten allowing as much as a 22-to-1 ratio — the latter of which matches state requirements for kindergarten through third-grade classes.