Oak Ridge Head Start program in jeopardy after 37 years

Oak Ridge Head Start program in jeopardy after 37 years

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Oak Ridge Head Start Program Oak Ridge Head Start Program

By KAYLA STRAYER
6 News Reporter

OAK RIDGE (WATE) - After 37 years, the Head Start program in Oak Ridge may not be around after this school year.

Anderson County Schools heads the program, but last week the school board voted unanimously to not renew the contract with Oak Ridge for next school year.

6 News investigated this after several parents contacted us with concerns about what's going on and why.

"It is a big change," said Anderson County Schools Superintendent Larry Foster.

He says the board voted to not renew the contract after a mandatory review in January showed staff at the Oak Ridge Head Start mishandled testing data involving children.

"Now were at the table collaborating talking about what we can do best to serve 118 students," Foster said.

Chris Marczak, the assistant superintendent for Oak Ridge Schools, says they're finding ways to fix the program, like hiring an interim director.

"We were able to find out who was at fault who did what. We took immediate action. Now were trying to work with Anderson County Schools to fix the relationship," Marczak said.

Marczak says the district will appeal the decision to not renew its contract. It's up to regional Head Start directors in Atlanta to decide what to do next. That decision is expected by July 1st.

"All that we can do is closely monitor what our employees are doing and have great communication with Anderson County Schools and director Foster to make sure this doesn't happen again," Marczak said.

Sandra Ellis is on the policy council for the Head Start program in Anderson County. She's hoping the contract gets renewed so parents like her don't have to worry.

"They're a great benefit because I've got so much to do but yet I can't afford childcare as they just provide a great service to the children," Ellis said.

Even if the contract isn't renewed, Foster says no federal funding will be cut from Anderson County Schools, and the county district will still be responsible for the Oak Ridge students who use the program.

Both school district leaders tell 6 News they're hoping to work something out so the Head Start program will continue as usual in Oak Ridge.

The reports from the investigation have not been released, and Marczak said the Oak Ridge Head Start director voluntarily stepped down.

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