The decision by Carroll County public schools to get out of the Head Start business is a break from tradition here, but no other school system in the Baltimore area manages the federal preschool program.
All others are run by community agencies, and Carroll school officials say such an agency would be a more appropriate provider here, too. Two of the most likely candidates are the Carroll County Family YMCA and Human Services Programs Inc. of Carroll County.
In neighboring counties, such agencies are already running Head Start. These two Carroll agencies have explored taking on the program in the past.
Carroll schools have offered Head Start through a federal grant since 1981. Currently, 100 students attend the preschool programs. But officials confirmed yesterday that the schools would not reapply for the federal grant after it expires at the end of this academic year.
The parent training and support included in the program detract from the schools' primary focus on education, said Gregory Eckles, director of secondary education and acting director of curriculum and staff development.
Head Start was designed to give economically disadvantaged children an experience similar to private preschool, so they could start kindergarten with the same skills as middle-class children.
The largest provider of Head Start in the region is the YMCA of Central Maryland, which has contracts to run the program in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
David Stevenson, director of the Carroll YMCA, which is a branch of the Central Maryland organization, said his agency would explore whether to apply for the Head Start contract.
"There's already a relationship there," Stevenson said. "We'd like to make sure the Head Start program continues here. We want to support the program. However, there are some very important questions that need to be answered."
Stevenson said he would need to look at what the grant would cover, how much space the schools could offer and for how long, and which other agencies might bid for the grant.
"There might be other agencies interested," Stevenson said. "I'm guessing it's going to be a competitive situation."
The other potential manager could be Human Services Programs, the local community action council. Community action councils and the Head Start program were created around the same time in the 1960s, during the federal War on Poverty. Around the country, many community action councils provide Head Start, as they do in Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
Lynda Gainor, deputy director of Human Services Programs of Carroll, is a member of the Head Start Policy Council in Carroll. The Family Center that her agency operates provides support programs for young parents, such as helping them complete their own education.
Gainor said her agency has looked into providing Head Start in the past, but the main obstacle has been space.
Although the crowding in most Carroll schools is well known in this growing county, some schools do have space, Eckles said. All the schools that offer Head Start have enough space to continue to offer it, he said, as long as another agency administers the program.
"How long that [space] would be [available], that's anybody's guess," he said. "Enrollment is always changing."
Rose Ann Fischer, a Head Start advocate from Sykesville, said parents shouldn't be concerned about the school system's decision. If the schools don't have the space, she said, churches and other organizations might.
"There is going to be a Carroll County Head Start," she said. "It's not going anywhere."
Fischer is a family worker for Head Start in Frederick County, where the program is administered by the county. She is a former member of the Carroll Head Start Policy Council and parent of a child who was in Head Start. Her son qualified for the program because of a disability -- 90 percent of the available spots are for low-income children, and 10 percent are reserved for disabled children, she said.
Fischer said the program prepared her son for kindergarten better than a private nursery school had done for her older daughter.
"By the time he got to kindergarten, he knew more than she did and was interacting better with other children," Fischer said. "And I paid big-time money for her to go to preschool."
Pub Date: 1/30/97