Amid Criticism, Director of Head Start Steps Down

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The director of the federal Head Start program has resigned after enduring more than a year of criticism from the preschool program’s main advocacy group.

Windy M. Hill stepped down May 27 but gave no reasons for her departure. In an e-mail sent to Head Start staff members, she said she planned to return to her home state of Texas to spend more time with her family and pursue other opportunities.

Ms. Hill’s departure comes just as Congress is making headway in the reauthorization of the $6.7 billion Head Start program, which helps prepare disadvantaged children for kindergarten. The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved a bill to reauthorize the Head Start program on May 18, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed its version on May 25.

For more than a year, Ms. Hill had faced accusations from the National Head Start Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based group representing teachers and families in the program, 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.

The association made a raft of allegations against Ms. Hill, including that she had improperly accepted bonus money and had wrongly been paid for vacation time at the local agency. The group also alleged financial improprieties at the Texas program and said Ms. Hill had behaved 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 to replace board members with others, including her sister, who would be unlikely to press for an investigation.

Probe by Inspector General

Ms. Hill has said little about the accusations, other than that she was pressing for an investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start.

The National Head Start Association on June 1 called for the release of the inspector general’s report, but it had not been made public as of late last week. The NHSA said it had filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the information.

At the time the accusations about Ms. Hill were first made, “top HHS officials defended Ms. Hill and expressed their confidence that she would be vindicated by the [inspector general’s] report,” NHSA President Sarah Greene said. “As such, it is incumbent upon HHS to reveal exactly what the investigation was.”

The inspector general’s office did not return a phone call last week.

In its statement about Ms. Hill’s resignation, the Health and Human Services Department provided no information on the reasons for her departure.

“We appreciate her service and wish her well in her future endeavors,” Wade F. Horn, the assistant secretary for children and families, said in the statement.

Ms. Hill’s tenure was also marked by controversies involving the federal Head Start program itself. Some advocates objected to evaluations unveiled in 2002 of children in the programs to gauge their learning. And a Bush administration proposal to transfer the Head Start program to the Department of Education fizzled after protests from program advocates.

Ms. Hill also called attention to what she said was a need to overhaul some aspects of the program because of mismanagement in several local Head Start programs.

Jane Ohl, the commissioner of the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, will take over Ms. Hill’s duties on an interim basis, according to the department’s statement.

That job will include monitoring the Head Start reauthorization as it moves through Congress. The most recent action was the Senate education committee’s approval of a bill that would bring significant changes to the program, including a new requirement that all local Head Start grantees compete every five years to remain as providers; providing the federal agency greater power to terminate a contract with a failing grantee; and requiring local Head Start programs to take quick action when they are underenrolled.

Vol. 24, Issue 39, Page 25

Published in Print: June 8, 2005, as Amid Criticism, Director of Head Start Steps Down
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