Campus: San Francisco State University -- November 7, 2003
On The Right Track: Head Start Thrives
In the five years since the University won federal designation to manage
Head Start operations in San Francisco, the program has improved dramatically,
showing a 21 percent increase in the number of children served throughout the
city and more services offered to families.
"We're doing many creative things here that are not being done elsewhere," said
Jean van Keulen, executive director of San Francisco Head Start and a longtime
SFSU education professor. "We've become the beacon Head Start program for
"Through contracts with San Francisco childcare agencies and providers, 1,404
Head Start children, ages 3- to 5-years-old, now receive free full-day,
year-round services. The arrangement allows parents who are moving from
welfare to work to attend school or job training knowing that their children
are in safe, nurturing environments preparing them for school. In addition,
the Early Head Start Program, which assists pregnant women, infants and toddlers,
includes slots for 64 children that are part of the overall total number of
Before the University's Urban Institute won federal designation in 1999 to
operate Head Start in San Francisco, the program faced widespread criticism
after being cited for deficiencies and mismanagement. Many thought the program
was in ruins as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration
for Children and Families asked the agency operating the program to step down.
With the University's help, the program has made strides in better serving
families with high quality, comprehensive services. San Francisco Head Start
children, served at 53 centers throughout the city, speak 28 languages and
represent 43 ethnicities.
The major milestones of the Head Start program during the last five years
President Robert A. Corrigan calls the Head Start program "an inspiring, national
example" of what can be achieved when a community-oriented university and a
receptive community pool talents and resources. More than 30 agencies partner
with Head Start to provide health, social, nutritional and educational services
- A total of 1,404 low-income children and their families are enrolled,
up from 1,160.
- A total of 53 sites throughout the city -- 13 locations are within city
schools, two are within public housing projects and one center at the Head
Start headquarters -- offer community college courses for credit allowing
parents and staff members to earn an associate of arts degree.
- The number of children served at many sites has increased. For example,
the Mission site serves 340 children, up from 240.
- A total of 18 childcare agencies and providers contract with Head Start,
up from 2.
- Children now receive full-day, year-round services compared with the
half-day services they received in the past. Children also now receive
mental health services.
- About a dozen SFSU nursing, social work, public health, business
administration, mental health and early childhood development students work
with the Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
"San Francisco State University may have taken the first steps, but the San
Francisco Head Start program of 2003 would not be what it is without the
exceptional range of community partners who have whole-heartedly joined with
the University," he said. "Together, we are truly transforming the futures of
many of San Francisco's high needs children and families. Dr. van Keulen has
told me that many of our agency partners say that they have never before
partnered like this -- and now that they have, they couldn't be more
"Van Keulen attributes the success to a true commitment from the board of
directors, staff members and the policy council, made up of parents and
community members. She adds that a qualified workforce being paid competitive
salaries has helped realize these goals. She also noted that a citywide
computer system linked with all the centers has helped facilitate the
process and improve services.
During a visit to a center last month, Sen. Barbara Boxer, impressed with
the improvements, bestowed her highly prestigious Excellence in Education
award to the Head Start program.
"In just four years, Dr. van Keulen and her staff have completely turned
around San Francisco Head Start and made it a model for programs across the
nation," said Boxer.
Boxer established the Excellence in Education Awards to recognize and raise
awareness of teachers, parents, businesses, and organizations working to make
positive changes in education. While Boxer frequently visits schools, the
award is reserved for only a selective group.