Late last week, educators and town officials throughout the Copper Corridor were stunned to learn that Pinal-Gila Community Child Services (PGCCS) would be closing Head Start preschools beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
Superior town and school officials learned of the planned closure of the Superior Head Start when a member of the community approached the town manager and informed him. He immediately contacted Superior Mayor Mila Besich with the news. Besich is also a member of the Superior Unified School District Governing Board.
In an email to Charity Russell, Chief Executive Officer of PGCCS, Besich expressed her outrage that the information about the closure didn’t come from the organization.
“I would like to assume that this decision was not made lightly,” Besich wrote, “but it is disrespectful that this was not explained to our community leadership and has happened under our noses without any consultation to the Town of Superior or the Superior Unified School District.”
Russell, in response to the inquiries about the closure, cited budgetary shortfalls as the reason for closing the Superior site.
“We are a federally funded grant program,” Russell responded, “and, other than a few cost of living adjustments (less than 2%), have been flat funded over the past 13 years. The increase in Arizona minimum wage and continuing rising costs have hit our agency extremely hard. I assure you agency and community data was reviewed before we were forced to make decisions that cause great heartache for us.”
“We have been in that same situation for several years.,” said Steve Estatico, Superintendent of the Superior School District. “This doesn’t even include healthcare costs, which have risen over 20 percent in the last three years alone. We had to be creative in our operations so that we could maintain the same programs and quality of education for our kids. This includes maintaining full-day kindergarten, small class sizes, 100 percent free breakfast and lunch, and a tuition free preschool. These programs are in place because we have built partnerships and have advocated for Superior Schools. If we were notified in advance of our Superior Head Start closure, we would have taken action to support its existence.”
Estatico reached out to First Things First, a voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten, to see if they had any programs that could assist the school district. During that conversation, it was learned that the Mammoth, Payson and Globe sites were also being closed, which Russell later clarified that PGCCS would be closing Globe and Superior this year. Payson’s Head Start closed last year. Mammoth’s Head Start moved from classroom-based to home-based last year. She said that Mammoth’s enrollment in the home-based program would drop to 30 from 36.
Russell explained that the PGCCS program plan for 2019-2020 includes reducing their capacity by 55 Head Start slots across its entire service area and that only 12 currently-enrolled children will lose its services. Russell added that it was her understanding that the children in Superior affected by the closure would be enrolled in the preschool at the Superior School District.
Estatico told Copper Area News that the preschool classes offered through the district has a very limited capacity, between 20-30 students over two daily classes (morning and afternoon half days). The preschool is tuition-free and is funded entirely by the district, which receives NO funds from the state government for the program. The district offers full-day kindergarten, of which the state government funds only half. Superior’s preschool is limited to children age four.
Further, Russell also stated that a private school that is opening is “willing to take all Head Start children that do not get into the school district at no cost.”
Estatico said that while there is someone claiming that a preschool will soon open in Superior, the person in question is not certified nor licensed for that service. He said that the person making the claims is doing so only on Facebook.
PGCCS’s website, pgccs.org, lists 12 sites in the two counties: Apache Junction, Casa Grande, Coolidge, Eloy, Florence, Mammoth, Maricopa, Miami, San Tan Valley, Stanfield, Toltec and Winkelman. Winkelman’s Head Start does not include classroom learning – it is strictly home based. Jeff Gregorich, Superintendent of the Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District, clarified that the Lobitos Preschool being operated out of the Winkelman Primary School has no affiliation with Head Start. Head Start, he said, only has an office on the campus and hasn’t been a classroom-based preschool for many years.
Julie Dale Scott, Superintendent of the Mammoth-San Manuel School District, learned of the closure when Copper Area News reached out to her for a comment. Scott was very concerned when learning of the news.
“Our rural area certainly needs the Early Childhood Resources it receives and more, so cutting back is detrimental to our young population,” she said.
“I am very concerned about the cuts being made to Head Start Programs in the Copper Corridor. As an educator of over 33 years, I believe early identification and intervention is the hallmark of quality early educational system and is supported by countless educational research-based studies. Reducing early education programming for disadvantage children is a serious mistake that will have a lasting impact on learning and emotional growth for many children in our geographic area,” Gregorich said.
“Head Start provides the foundation for our youngest residents,” Besich said. “It is often a life-changing program for many families in Superior.”
“This program is a game changer and is needed in through the United States and especially in rural Arizona communities that don’t have other programs and options to provides these services. I know that Head Start is a no brainer early educational program that works, and I hope there is still have time to prevent any reduction to Head Start programs.,” he said.
“I recommend everyone let our political leaders understand that making cuts to Head Start Programs will hurt children and parents who need it the most,” Gregorich added.
Congressman Tom O’Halleran has been apprised of the situation. His office has not yet released a statement, but is working with local educators and town officials to mitigate the loss of the Head Start sites.
The PGCCS website lists its governing board members. A check of the Arizona Corporation Commission’s website lists their home addresses. PGCCS governing board members include:
Jesse Kraus, President (San Tan Valley)
Tracy Anders, Vice President (Casa Grande)
Caryl Chase, Treasurer (Casa Grande)
Linda Good, Secretary (Casa Grande)
Aimee Powell, Member (Casa Grande)
Amy Curtiss, Member (Florence)
Kyle Ott, PC Member (Globe)
Lizbeth Shepherd, PC Member (unknown – not listed as a member on the ACC website)
Congressman O’Halleran can be reached through his website, which provides email links, and phone numbers and locations of his offices in Arizona and Washington, DC.
“I sincerely hope the political discourse at the top doesn’t forget about the many needy children and parents that are serviced through Head Start,” Gregorich said.