Regional Head Start provider may seek $15M grant given up by JCPS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, which runs Head Start and Early Head Start schools in nine school districts in the area, will likely seek the $15 million Head Start grant relinquished by Jefferson County Public Schools on Tuesday.

OVEC Chief Executive Officer Leon Mooneyhan told WDRB News on Friday that his group is keeping close tabs on what will happen with the Head Start grant. He said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may appoint an interim operator to run the grant program in Jefferson County before accepting applications.

Another consideration, Mooneyhan said, is whether JCPS will want to partner with OVEC if it wins the Head Start grant. OVEC, a cooperative of 14 area school districts, already partners with private providers in six Early Head Start centers in Jefferson County, five of them in high-poverty areas.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said during Tuesday’s board meeting that he expected to partner with whichever entity becomes the next Head Start provider in Jefferson County.

The district is planning to expand its early childhood program for 3- and 4-year-olds eligible for Head Start with $8 million from its budget after learning that another incident of student mistreatment could jeopardize its Head Start grant. JCPS had been cited in a federal report for nearly two dozen instances of Head Start staff abusing or neglecting students.

JCPS isn’t an OVEC member, but Mooneyhan said he’s not concerned about collaborating with the district if OVEC gets the Head Start grant. He said it would “be very helpful” if the district allowed OVEC to lease space in JCPS facilities.

“My guess would be that they would be very open to embracing a quality partner,” he said. “… I know those folks involved, and they know our reputation as an educational cooperative.”

“The driving force would be we provide the best possible services as a team for children and families,” said Kim Fithian, OVEC’s Head Start director.

If OVEC gets the $15 million Head Start grant, it would be a significant enrollment increase for the cooperative. There are about 350 students in OVEC’s Head Start program while JCPS has more than 1,300.

“Definitely we’d be scaling up, and so we would have to take that into consideration,” Mooneyhan said.

Asked about allegations of Head Start student abuse and neglect in JCPS, Mooneyhan said he isn’t “intimately involved” in all sides of that issue, but the former school superintendent said OVEC has stringent protocols and training programs on student safety.

“I have a very strong policy and just a personal concern of complying strictly with abuse and neglect law where if there’s anything that might even appear that kids are not being treated properly that we would self-report that to Child Protective Services,” Mooneyhan said.

“What may or may not have happened in the past would not be a concern to us because we feel like we have a good handle and a great track record regarding safety issues as well as quality programs for the children and families,” he added.

OVEC operates Head Start schools in Bullitt, Oldham, Shelby, Henry, Gallatin, Owen, Spencer and Trimble counties.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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