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Head Start Director Resigns

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Windy M. Hill, whose tenure as the federal Head Start director was marked by fierce fire from the main advocacy group for the preschool program, resigned from that job May 27.

A statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the program’s parent agency, said that Ms. Hill’s resignation would be effective immediately, but did not give a reason for her departure. An e-mail Ms. Hill sent to staff members said she planned to spend more time with her family and pursue new options.

The National Head Start Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based group representing teachers and families of children in the program, accused Ms. Hill more than a year ago of inappropriate conduct in her previous job at a local Head Start program. Before taking over the helm of the federal program in January 2002, Ms. Hill was the director of Cen-Tex Family Services Inc., a Head Start agency based in Bastrop, Texas.

On June 1, NHSA officials called for the release of a report by the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general into Ms. Hill’s tenure at the local Head Start program. The inspector general’s office is believed to be completing an investigation into the accusations.

The NHSA has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the information.

“We believe that the best way to make a clean break with the past is to publicly disclose what we understand is an unfavorable Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General report that led to the departure of Ms. Hill,” NHSA President Sarah Greene said in a statement.

At the time the accusations were first made about the Head Start director, more than a year ago, “top HHS officials defended Ms. Hill and expressed their confidence that she would be vindicated by the OIG report,” Ms. Greene said. “As such it is incumbent upon HHS to reveal exactly what the investigation found.”

She added: “We strongly encourage the department to facilitate the healing process by coming clean in this matter now.”

The association alleged that Ms. Hill had improperly accepted bonus money, had been wrongly paid for vacation time, and had violated federal grant requirements. It cited other alleged financial improprieties at the Texas program and accused Ms. Hill of behaving unethically by trying, from her federal position, to oust the Cen-Tex board as an investigation into her Texas leadership was under way. The association charged that she had tried replace board members with others, including her sister, who would be unlikely to press for an investigation of the accusations.

Since those allegations arose, Ms. Hill has said little about them, other than to say she has pushed for the inspector general's investigation.

The Head Start program, which helps prepare disadvantaged children for kindergarten, is overseen by the department’s Administration for Children and Families.

Period of Turmoil

Joan Ohl, the commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families with the ACF, will oversee the Head Start Bureau on an interim basis, the May 27 HHS statement said.

Ms. Greene said she looked forward to a developing a “warm and productive relations” with Ms. Ohl.

“Windy is a caring and devoted person who has always been interested in the well-being of children,” Wade F. Horn, the HHS assistant secretary for children and families, said in a statement. “We appreciate her service and wish her well in future endeavors.”

Ms. Hill has left just as Congress is working to reauthorize the Head Start program. Both the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee have passed new versions of the program in recent weeks.

Ms. Hill oversaw the program during a period of turmoil in which some Head Start advocates, including the National Head Start Association, objected to new evaluations of children in the program to gauge their learning. ("House Committee OKs Head Start Reauthorization," May 25, 2005.)

Also during her tenure, a Bush administration proposal to transfer Head Start to the U.S. Department of Education fizzled after protests from program advocates.

Ms. Hill’s resignation came almost a year after the National Head Start Association had prematurely announced that she was leaving her position. On June 30, 2004, NHSA officials held a press conference to announce Ms. Hill’s purported departure. At the time, Sarah Greene, the association’s president, said that Ms. Hill had announced her resignation and that “this spread like wildfire.”

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