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Puzzle Pieces

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By Brittany Clark, on May 23, 2014

At this point I have sat through enough meetings that they are starting to blend together, but I am beginning to understand how the early childhood education providers around Buncombe County work together. With all of the discussions about collaboration, board member engagement, and funding, it feels like we are putting together a puzzle while also trying to keep all the pieces on a table that is just not big enough. The 3 year old one the parent representatives brought to our Policy Council meeting could totally relate. He was given a puzzle with HUGE pieces, and then he tried to put it together on the chair. It’s always nice to have the kids in the meetings, they keep people on their toes, and it reminds everyone who doesn’t work in the classroom to be thankful for the people who do. Head Start does a great job ensuring parents are kept involved. Each site has a parent committee and one person from each of those committees sits as a representative to the Policy Council. Since I am still actively recruiting people to conduct interviews for our self-assessment, I had the pleasure of meeting some of them. Being a Head Start parent is a full time job in itself. I admire these parents for finding ways to get their children to school each day (because Head Start is independent of the public school system, many of them do not have school bus transportation).

Back to the meetings…Most of the meetings seem to focus on one of two things: board membership and finances, or how the network is working together to connect clients to resources. The cooperation between organizations is striking in the sense that they are all passionate about the goal of providing early childhood education and supporting families while doing so. Organizations are clearly open to sharing resources and coordinating programs, however I am fascinated by the slight competitive nature I sense around funding. Let me back up and say I have learned a lot about money this week. I like that my supervisor communicates budgets in percentages so the non-money people can understand. He displays the annual budget with up-to-date spending totals for each line item allocation, but then he also displays the percentage of the total for each category. For example, if we are 60% into the fiscal year he will calculate the percent of money that has been spent in each budget area for comparison. So if spending for any given program area is around 60% we are on track, anything above is cause for concern, and anything below is generally good, unless it needs to be spent down by the end of the year (it is strange to hear people openly discuss spending money to demonstrate need, but as we learned in class this year, with government funding if need is not demonstrated the fear is that funding will get cut in the subsequent year).

And then, there are RULES about funding! Ok, I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I am starting to wonder who makes these “rules.” Two points to ponder that I have been surprised by this week: How does one keep third parties (i.e. a school not involved in a grant but housing a Head Start program) accountable when funding depends on them documenting their work (i.e. the cook writing the temperatures of the food)? If funding for Head Start requires a non-Head Start employee to document something, how does Head Start manage that? And who decided that because federal dollars are reserved for a program like Head Start, more money per child should be allocated from the state early childhood education fund to go towards non-Head Start and non-public school programs? (even though non-profits can fundraise and the government programs cannot) Hmmm… some puzzle pieces just have to be forced to fit a space that might not be the right shape.

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