February 4, 2010
Brian Cottam, Associate Director
Southern Utah University Office of Regional Services
Paul Husselbee, GR&RS Media Relations
CEDAR CITY, Utah — Southern Utah University’s Head Start program has been designated by Gov. Gary R. Herbert as one of four Centers of Excellence in Utah, making the preschool program that serves some 440 Southwest Utah children eligible to apply for a $1 million federal grant.
Acknowledged as “an exemplary model for other programs,” SUU Head Start was recognized for “implementing comprehensive, innovative and targeted approaches to enhance program services,” Herbert wrote in a congratulatory letter to Virginia Higbee, SUU Head Start director.
Designation as a Center of Excellence enables SUU Head Start to apply for a grant that would provide $200,000 annually for five years, Higbee said. Ten such grants will be awarded nationwide in a competitive process that will begin this spring.
“We are very pleased to be recognized for the work SUU Head Start does with children and families in our region,” Higbee said, “and we’re excited to have the opportunity to compete for a grant that could make a great program even better.”
If SUU Head Start lands the $1 million grant, it will serve as a demonstration site for administrators of other Head Start programs to visit.
“We will be a model for other programs, a place where people will come and learn from us, and we’ll teach them what we’ve done to be successful,” Higbee said.
SUU Head Start’s eight‐page application was based on “the things we felt strongly that we do well in our program, including our method of tailoring the program for, and gauging the progress of, each child,” Higbee said.
Christine Kearl, the governor’s education director, said this custom of tracking each child’s physical and mental health, as well as the child’s nutritional, social, educational and developmental needs, was one of the things that sets SUU’s program apart from other applicants.
“Our staff members know each child and his or her needs,” Higbee said. “We continue to track and support the children’s growth throughout the program, so we can provide an updated progress report on any child during the program year.”
SUU President Michael T. Benson said he believes recognition for SUU Head Start is well-deserved.
“We already believe that Virginia Higbee and her team run an exemplary program that others could use as a model,” Benson said. “As is the case with so many programs, it's the people that make them outstanding and we are very fortunate to have Virginia leading our great program. I have no doubt that her team would put the additional grant money to the best use possible to enhance the lives of many families in southern Utah.”
Higbee said families in the Southwest Utah region served by SUU Head Start will get a significant boost if the program receives the $1 million grant.
“We were fortunate to get some stimulus funding to help with facilities, but there’s so much more we need to do,” she said. “We’d like to strengthen our work with the Early Childhood Education program in cooperation with the SUU College of Education.”
In addition, SUU Head Start would seek to solidify its salary structure to maintain greater continuity among its teaching staff, Higbee said.
“In our current salary structure, we hire some really good people, but as soon as they get their degrees, many of them leave us because they can make more money teaching in the public schools, and we lose them,” she said. “If we can pay a more competitive salary, we’d be able to hang on to more of those people.”
Administered under the direction of SUU’s Office of Government Relations & Regional Services, Head Start is a federally funded, community‐governed, preschool program spanning 25,000 square miles in Iron, Beaver, Garfield, Kane, Millard and Washington counties.
Some 50 Head Start staff members provide services to approximately 440 pre‐kindergarten children and their families, seeking to increase the “social competence” of young children in‐low income families.
In addition to the children’s preschool education and socialization, Head Start families are offered assistance in health and nutrition, literacy, parenting skills and social services.
“We individualize services for each child and stresses strong parent and community involvement,” Higbee said.
According to the national organization’s Web site (www.nhsa.org), Head Start is the most successful, longest‐running national school readiness program in the United States. It provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low‐income children and their families.
Nearly 25 million pre‐school aged children have benefited from Head Start, the Web site said.