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Early-Years Column

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Building on the successes of Head Start and a state preschool program, New Jersey has launched an effort to expand the reach and scope of early-education services for urban poor children and ensure that elementary schools help them to sustain their preschool gains.

Jointly administered by the state departments of education and human services, the GoodStarts program provides $7 million in state and federal aid for programs aimed at 3- and 4-year-olds that offer educational, social, health, nutritional, and child-care services and highlight parental involvement.

To ensure program continuity and expansion without relying on annual appropriations, grantees must identify a recurring funding source--such as regular state school aid or Head Start--to absorb program costs by the end of three years. The next funding cycle could then be used to launch or expand preschool services in other districts.

Districts must also devote a portion of their GoodStarts funds to staff training, planning, and other activities to ease the transition from preschool to school, improve the K-2 curriculum, and assure children and families continued access to comprehensive services.

Beside offering full-day programs, grantees must ensure that up to half of the children whose parents work are offered before- and after-school care extending the day to 10 hours.

The grant competition, announced last month, is open to the 30 districts targeted in the state supreme court's school-finance ruling.

Districts must collaborate with Head Start and forge links among agencies and between preschool and school personnel.

To help Head Start keep up with spiraling enrollments and meet new staffing, space, and budget challenges, Johnson & Johnson is providing a three-year, $1.2-million grant to launch an intensive management-training program for Head Start directors.

The $600-million increase in Head Start funding proposed by President Bush would increase the number of children being served by 30 percent. The program's budget is expected to reach $2.8 billion in 1993, up from $1.4 billion in 1990.

The training initiative was inspired by a Johnson & Johnson study showing that local Head Start directors--many of whom are former program teachers or parents--"would benefit from management skills training as they seek to expand their operations and, at the same time, maintain a consistently high quality of services.''

It is also designed to help directors develop new strategies to meet diverse family needs and form a network to share their new skills with other directors.

The Johnson & Johnson Management Fellows Program, designed in collaboration with Head Start and the Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles, will allow 40 local Head Start directors chosen through a competitive process to attend an intensive two-week course at U.C.L.A. each year.

The University of Kentucky is conducting a study of the preschool program enacted under Kentucky's education-reform law in 1990 and implemented statewide for this year. The program offers educational, social, and support services for at-risk 4-year-olds and disabled 3- to 5-year olds.

The $150,000 study by the university's colleges of education and human environmental sciences will conduct a cost-benefit analysis, set baseline measures on pupil outcomes, and assess program implementation.

To help prepare children to enter school, a recent report from the Maryland education department calls for more interagency collaboration, new computer systems to track children's performance, more community and business involvement, and neighborhood resource centers for children and families.

The report, "Laying the Foundation for School Success,'' offers more than 100 recommendations, such as expanding education and health services for parents and children, requiring parents to have 3-year-olds screened for developmental problems, and forming nongraded units for 4- to 9-year-olds.

KinderCare Learning Centers Inc., the nation's largest child-care chain, has enrolled all 1,250 of its center directors in the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

While many KinderCare employees have been active in the organization, this is the first time the company has paid for an "en masse'' membership, said Ann Muscari, its vice president for government relations and customer services.

Ms. Muscari said the move was mainly intended to extend to KinderCare employees the professional benefits, publications, and training opportunities N.A.E.Y.C. offers. But it could also help to dispel criticisms leveled by some child-care advocates at KinderCare and other for-profit providers regarding child-care working conditions and quality, she acknowledged.

"By having a substantial number of members being active in the organization, people can get to know us and it will perhaps change some of the stereotypical ideas,'' she said.

Last fall, the N.A.E.Y.C. added KinderCare representatives to a panel studying staff compensation issues and to the editorial board of its journal, Young Children.--D.C.

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