Head Start classroom in Richmond County not expected to return until at least next year

Something’s missing in Richmond County.

It’s a preschool classroom full of children coming together to draw pictures, sing songs, learn their ABC’s and develop skills that they potentially couldn’t afford to learn elsewhere in the county before they reach kindergarten.

It’s a classroom courtesy of Head Start, a federally funded resource. The space was recently available to family and children in Richmond County up until a combination of budget cuts and expenses necessitated its withdrawal.

Head Start will be offering Home Based services to Richmond County families this upcoming school year, but according to local officials, a Head Start classroom is not expected to return to the county until at least the 2015-2016 school year.

And the classroom definitely won’t come back if rent is charged for the space, officials confirmed.

Last year, with sequestration leading to major cuts in federal spending, Northern Neck Head Start had to find a way to subtract $50,000 from its budget.

And having to pay for a classroom space in Richmond County factored into NNHS’s decision to pull the classroom from the locality to realize the budget cuts.

NNHS Administrator Erin Myers had told the Northern Neck News in 2013 that, of all the districts they served, Richmond County is “the only one that we pay rent for. All of the others are donated from the county or the school, or at least the property that they sit on.”

Sarah Schmidt, assistant superintendent of Richmond County Public Schools, said NNHS “cannot afford to be in Richmond county if they have to pay $750 a month of rent for a classroom space.”

Previously, NNHS had been paying that amount to Richmond County to rent a space since 1992. Classes were being held in Warsaw’s Family Development Center (FDC), which also houses the Virginia Preschool Initiative program. The total cost of rent between the two pre-school programs came to $1,500, and the FDC had to rework a lease with the county in order to keep the state preschool initiative, which was able to continue paying $750 a month as opposed to doubling their rent with Head Start’s departure.

Schmidt said that the county is different from a majority of localities in Virginia in that funding for preschool  is handled through county offices as opposed to the school board.

Schmidt added that right now, Richmond County is the only locality under the Northern Neck Head Start Program that does not have a Head Start classroom.

“From our children in Richmond County, they are getting a disadvantage,” said Schmidt. “It’s been a hard time for Head Start. They’ve suffered a lot from sequestration and continue to, and our children are suffering from it, particularly more than others.

“It’s 18 kids who aren’t getting preschool but need it,” she added.

Schmidt said that preschool is the key to several children being successful in their lives, particularly given the  disadvantaged situations in which some children live.

In an emailed response to questions from the Northern Neck News on May 31, Myers said that Head Start services level the playing field for children in regards to school readiness.

“The students that we serve typically could not afford to pay for pre-k services, so [they] would enter into Kindergarten at a disadvantage when compared to their more affluent peers,” Myers said. “Head Start offers comprehensive services to the student and to their families, and we do a fantastic job of preparing our kids for Kindergarten!”

Schmidt noted how every year, they have kids who come to kindergarten and have never held a crayon before.

“How can I get that kid into preschool? Because he needs it,” Schmidt said.

Myers added that, not only will the children be more prepared academically, but they will also have been assessed for any potential disabilities or medical issues that need to be addressed for them to ”ultimately be successful in school.”

This year, Richmond County students in the Head Start program are being bused to Tappahannock for class, with total spots having been reduced from 18 last year to nine. Following attendance drop-off, Schmidt said that five to seven students go to class regularly.

But because of scheduling issues as well as unforeseen events–the May 19 accident on Downing Bridge prevented Richmond County from picking up their students in Tappahannock in a timely fashion, for instance — NNHS will provide Home Based services for Richmond County students.

According to Myers, a Home Visitor who meets the qualifications of a Lead Teacher will conduct a 90 minute instructional session in the home for both the student and one of their parents.

Myers said there will also be two opportunities per month “for all of the Home Based students and their parents to interact with each other in planned social activities, held in places such as a public library, an outdoor park, etc.”

Myers said they recently applied for the funding to reinstate 18 slots, but that they will only be able to reinstate 12 of those slots if a free classroom space isn’t available, as the case load for a Home Visitor can only be up to 12 students.

Myers also noted that a classroom setting remains the ideal way for Head Start to offer their services.

“I’ve not had discussions with the folks at Walnut Street about it, but we would love to go back there if a free classroom were an option for us! The classroom that we had there already meets Licensing and Head Start regulations, making it an ideal location,” Myers said.

But she also said that unless NNHS can find a free classroom that meets Licensing standards for both the State of Virginia and Head Start requirements, its only option will be to offer Head Start services in a Home Based capacity for this upcoming school year.

.Schmidt said they are looking to bring back the 2015-2016 school year following anticipated completion of the additional wings to the elementary and high schools. The new school additions would split up the middle school students, who currently have class at Richmond County Intermediate School. Following students’ slated departure from RCI in 2015, that building could present a free classroom option to Head Start for Richmond County.

“It’s not unreasonable to expect that you would have a classroom to use,” Schmidt said, adding that a classroom at what would be the former middle school is “not a good option, but it is one … but we haven’t sat down and hammered all this stuff out yet, either.”

Myers added that “it is absolutely our intention to reinstate Head Start services in Richmond County.” She added that they recently applied for funding that would allow NNHS to bring the services back into Richmond County.

“However, even with the funding, there would still not be enough money to cover rent for a classroom space,” Myers said. “Until we can secure classroom space that is free, we will offer Head Start as a Home Based option in Richmond County.”

“Head Start classroom in Richmond County not expected to return until at least next year” is slated to be featured in an upcoming print edition of the Northern Neck News.

Posted on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 11:30 am