STOP puts brakes on Head Start

Published 11:19 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

STOP: The STOP Organization’s Suffolk Head Start Center on Davis Boulevard was closed Tuesday after the Board of Directors of the organization voted to shutter its Head Start program because of financial problems.

The Hampton Roads area’s Head Start programs run by the Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project were shuttered this week because of budget issues.

A letter on the front door of the Suffolk location on Davis Boulevard informed visitors that the Board of Directors voted to relinquish the program and allow it to be taken over by another agency.

Inside the building, lights were on and the phone rang continuously. Toys and children’s chairs sat unused. The parking lot was empty.

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The letter on the front door was signed by George H. Banks, chairman of the Board of Directors of STOP Organization Hampton Roads; Regina P. Lawrence, president and chief operating officer of STOP Organization Hampton Roads; Lawanna M. Dowden, senior vice president for education and training and Head Start director; and Madeline Guerra, chairwoman of the Head Start Policy Council.

It stated that all Head Start centers and classrooms closed on Friday. The Community Development Institute expects to reopen the centers will be March 14.

The federal Office of Head Start, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, promotes school readiness by providing grants to local public and private agencies to provide services to economically disadvantaged children and families. The programs focus on helping preschoolers develop early math and reading skills.

In Hampton Roads, Head Start had been administered by the STOP organization until this week’s closure.

Every local family with children in the program will be contacted prior to the reopening, and all Head Start services will be available once again upon reopening, the letter stated.

According to the Community Development Institute’s website, the Federal Office of Head Start appoints it as interim manager of Head Start and Early Head Start programs when the current grantee’s responsibility for the program ceases. It has provided interim services to more than 100 programs since 2000, the website says.

The Community Development Institute’s website refers media questions to the federal Administration for Children and Families. A message left with ACF was not returned Tuesday afternoon, and STOP officials would not answer questions directly.