The CNMI Board of Education is up for a full review and assessment this year which result will determine if the federally funded Head Start program will remain in the hands of the Public School System.
Richard Ybarra, visiting official from the Office of Head Start Region XI, made this announcement to BOE and PSS officials during a special meeting yesterday at the BOE office.
Ybarra's group is conducting its annual site visit on island for the Head Start program, which funds may potentially be placed in competitive process if full review yields unsatisfactory result for the feds.
Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development. The Office of Head Start, within the Administration of Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services, awards grants to provide comprehensive services to specific communities such as the CNMI.
Under the designation renewal system (DRS), a regulation that became effective in December 2011, specific conditions were set that HHS will consider when determining whether a grantee is delivering a high-quality and comprehensive program and, thus, whether the grantee may be renewed without having to compete for continued funding.
In particular, if a grantee is found to meet any of those conditions during the time periods specified in the regulation, then that grantee will be required to compete for continued funding.
According to Ybarra, this regulation was set to see “more accountability” in handling the program. Failure to see this objective in the upcoming review will place a grantee in designated renewal system where it will begin compete for the awards to continue operate the program.
But this early, BOE chair Herman T. Guerrero and Commissioner of Education Rita A. Sablan, Ed.,D, welcomed the federal assessment and confident on the smooth and well-managed operation of the program.
Guerrero admitted that in 2000, PSS almost lost the administration of the Head Start program due to some deficiencies that were not properly relayed to the board and the then PSS administration. As a result of this discovery, the then program director was removed.
“We have seen the progression over these years. We have turned the Head Start program around and I am confident that we have a very good program and I don't see any other local agencies and groups that can best manage this program.but PSS,” Guerrero told Saipan Tribune after yesterday's meeting, adding that there's no way the federal government will allow the closure of the program in the CNMI.
According to Sablan, the upcoming review is part of the tri-annual review from the OHS. In the event there might be deficiencies uncover during the review, the COE is hopeful that PSS would be allowed to clarify and take corrective actions.
She labeled the DRS regulation as critical but is confident that “PSS is very much capable in overseeing and implementing the program.” She cited the many progress and achievements of the Head Start program under the umbrella of BOE.
Ybarra informed BOE yesterday that the team for the full review usually announces its visit 30 days prior to the schedule. He, however, cannot immediately say when this will happen for CNMI.
His message to the BOE-which is fully accountable for the program-is to get ready and make its records straight for the federal review. Ybarra said he was pleased to see the local Head Start program's progress, 10 years after it was cited for deficiencies. The review will cover all aspects of the program operation including fiscal, policies, personnel, audit, and others. Each year, the Head Start program is mandated to serve 462 children and has an annual budget of $1.8 million of which over $300,000 are from the local side.