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Head Start program in Akron will continue for a year

Head Start will return to the Village of Akron, at least for one more year.

Holy Cross Head Start announced earlier this spring that its Akron chapter would close, citing difficulty maintaining its federally mandated income-eligible enrollment and waiting list.

But as Akron was set to close its doors permanently in June, Holy Cross Head Start Executive Director Cortland M. Purks continued weighing options for six 3-year-olds currently enrolled who were eligible for a second year of the program. After a plan to bus children to Head Start locations in Tonawanda or Niagara County was not approved, Holy Cross decided in May to pursue one more year of the program in Akron.

“Leaving those families out there, that’s something that was hard for me to come to grips with,” Purks said. “At least at this point, give Akron a year to make this work.”

This year’s classroom will include those six children already enrolled in Head Start and at least 11 more children who will be recruited. There used to be two half-day programs every day, but now there will be a full-day program.

If Head Start had shut down this summer, those six families still would have had access to two other universal prekindergarten, Miss Jean’s Childcare and Rattles to Reading. But those families preferred to stay with Head Start, and Holy Cross felt that it should continue for another year, according to Purks.. Head Start’s closure will not affect the 52 universal pre-K slots available to the Akron Central School District.

Other community-based agencies could also petition to be part of universal pre-K or the district could open its own universal pre-K classroom, said Taweepon Siminski, director of educational services for the district.

At the First United Methodist Church, Head Start’s decision means downsizing from two classrooms to one this fall. The program paid the church rent for utilities, but monetary loss isn’t the parish’s main concern, said Marilyn J. Kasperek, communications minister for the church.

“It’s serving the community for the long term,” she said. “We know there’s a population that needs this type of early education.”

The church hopes that another group will step in to fill Head Start’s void in September 2016. On June 11, the parish will hold a public meeting for those interested in developing a pre-K program for 3-year-olds from low-income families.

Still, some community members are convinced that there remains a need for Head Start in Akron. Melissa A. Waterbury, whose daughter graduated from Head Start this year, is rallying parents this summer to recruit families for next fall. “We’re happy we got another year out of (Head Start),” she said. “But I know families who are eligible next September.”