One Head Start center may shut down Cost-effectiveness, safety of children, staff cited as factors in planned closure

March 18, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

One of Howard County's three remaining Head Start centers for disadvantaged children may close as the nonprofit organization that runs it restructures the federal program.

The county's Community Action Council is considering closing the Head Start center at the former Harriet Tubman High School in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village, said the group's executive director Dorothy Moore.

Plans are not final, and a possible closing date has not been set, she said, adding that she doesn't envision the center closing before the 1999 school year.

The county's $1.4 million Head Start program is a federal initiative to give disadvantaged children early education before they start kindergarten.

The program began in Howard in 1965, and eventually four centers opened to service preschoolers and their parents. The two other centers are at the former Rockland Elementary School in Ellicott City, and the former Elkridge Elementary School off U.S. 1.

The two classes at Tubman, which serve 34 of the program's 228 children, would be transferred to the Ellicott City center off Rogers Avenue.

A fourth center in West Friendship closed at the beginning of the school year because not enough families in the area needed its services, not because of the restructuring, Moore said.

The 17 students served by that class have been transferred to the Ellicott City center, which serves about 85 students. The Community Action Council buses all of its students to the centers.

The proposed change would make the county's Head Start program more cost-effective because the centers won't be scattered, Moore said.

The restructuring would entail hiring two associate directors who would be primarily responsible for managing the Ellicott City and Elkridge centers. Because fewer classes are taught at the Columbia center, it is dispensable, Moore said.

The restructuring was undertaken because concerns were raised about management at the centers, she said.

"The priority is the safety of the children and staff," she said. "We've had incidents where parents without custody had tried to pick up their children. We need a little more structure."

But there will be some costs in consolidating the Columbia and Ellicott City centers. Because no more space is available at the latter site, Moore is pursuing funding from the county's Office of Housing and Community Development for the purchase of modular classrooms to attach to the school.

"We should have moved in that direction a long time ago," Moore said.

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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