Schenectady’s Head Start program must reapply for its grant after workers left a child on a bus alone last year, federal officials announced.
Any agency in the city will be allowed to apply to run Head Start, including agencies that have never run Head Start before.
The new process was created by Congress to weed out badly run Head Start administrations, by requiring a competitive grant process every time those administrations posted poor academic results or committed serious misconduct.
In the city, Head Start is run by Schenectady Community Action Program. Officials there have been expecting a competitive grant application ever since the incident with the bus.
On March 22, a bus driver brought young children to Head Start, locked up his bus, and left.
What he didn’t do was check every seat to make sure there were no children inside. The task is especially important with young children, who tend to fall asleep on the ride.
He never noticed that there was a child still on the bus.
For hours, the boy was trapped there, alone. Eventually, officials found him there, unharmed, and immediately disciplined the driver.
SCAP Executive Director Debra Schimpf would not say how the driver was punished, citing privacy issues. But she said SCAP has changed the buses so that no driver can leave without walking past every seat on the bus first.
Workers installed new devices at the back of each bus that keep the engine running. Drivers have to walk to the back and turn off the device before they can use their key to turn off the engine.
“We were shocked and really upset by the incident,” Schimpf said. “Obviously, this should not happen and it will not happen again. We wanted to make sure it could never happen again.”
Now SCAP must prove that it deserves to continue running Head Start. Schimpf is confident that SCAP can win the grant.
“We have really strong support in the community,” she said. “We have really great results.”
The goal of Head Start is to get poor and minority children ready for kindergarten. The idea is to level the playing field by teaching them pre-reading and pre-math concepts, from letter recognition to counting.
In Schenectady, 79 percent of the children who attended Head Start for two years tested at “grade level” for kindergarten-entrance literacy. Before Head Start, 40 percent of the 4-year-olds could identify the letters and sounds needed to start kindergarten at the same academic level as their fellow students.
In math, 67 percent of the children who spent two years in Head Start were ready for kindergarten-level mathematics. Before Head Start, 44 percent of them could identify numbers and had other math-ready skills.
Officials for the federal Administration for Children & Families confirmed that Schenectady Head Start’s academic results were acceptable. They said the only reason SCAP must re-apply for funding is because of the bus incident.
The agency had a “deficiency” in its “standards of conduct,” federal officials explained in a letter recently sent to SCAP.
“No child will be left alone or unsupervised,” the letter said. “Grantee and delegate agencies must ensure that all staff, consultants and volunteers abide by the program’s standards of conduct.”
If the federal government receives more than one application to run Schenectady Head Start, it will choose the organization that proves “it is the most qualified entity to deliver a high-quality and comprehensive” program, according to the Administration for Children & Families.