Kedren Head Start centers continue to close in low-income areas

Congresswoman Maxine Waters calls for investigation

By Robert Gillard | 4/10/2014, midnight

The month of June usually signals the end of the academic year for most school children in Los Angeles. But this June could be the end of an era in South L.A., and along with it, a tradition that has spanned generations in many families.

The partnership between the Kedren Community Health Center and the federal Head Start Program is scheduled to end soon; that much is clear. The controversial decision has left community members outraged and confused.

Officials from the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) say that Kedren relinquished its Head Start contract in January. Parents of Kedren children contend that the relinquishment was coerced, and that they weren’t informed of the decision until weeks later. Parents claim that Kedren CEO John Griffith was pressured into surrendering the contract within two hours, amid findings of hundreds of violations across numerous sites.

Parents believe the short time window forced Griffith into pulling the plug without consulting with Kedren’s Parent’s Policy Council, which is comprised of parents and delegates from each of Kedren’s Head Start sites. They contend the decision not only violated the bylaws of the policy council, but also violated the Brown Act and the Head Start Act.

“We weren’t a part of the decision making to relinquish the contract,” said Josie Calderon, president of the parent’s council. “We weren’t a part of the decision making of what agencies were going to come into the area.”

News of the controversy prompted Congresswoman Maxine Waters last month to call for a federal investigation into LACOE, describing the largest regional educational agency in the nation as “irresponsible” and “out of control.”

LACOE officials released a statement saying that they would cooperate with an investigation.

Waters knows how beneficial Head Start can be for young children. She was an employee of a Head Start program in the 1960s. She said that the experience there changed her life, and that she saw first-hand how parents could “control their children’s educational destiny.”

Kedren has 31 sites serving about 2,300 children in South L.A. Despite its nearly 50-year relationship with the community, Kedren will be replaced with several other agencies, including the Children’s Institute, Inc.

Parents are concerned that these new agencies won’t be able to form the same kind of bond with the community that Kedren’s staff has achieved. According to a report by the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, 23 percent of Head Start staff is comprised of parents of current or former Head Start children.

There are also concerns that the new agencies won’t be able to serve as many children as Kedren. Parents said that they are getting mixed reports on which sites would be taken over by the new agencies and which ones would be closed. Kedren currently has 727 slots for children in Watts; the Children’s Institute reportedly will have fewer than 500 slots available in Watts.

This latest controversy comes several years after Head Start contracts were taken from other sub-grantees, including the Urban League and Delta Sigma Theta. Waters said when those closures took place she reached out to LACOE for explanation, but was ignored.