Norwalk Head Start parents look for answers

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Norwalk Head Start children pause in the hallway at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) Friday. The 4-year-olds are, from left, Emmanuel Sanchez, Lillian Cruz, Sophia Lopez and Lyndsey Cruz.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Head Start parents remained in limbo Friday, unhappy with Norwalk politicians and worried about the safety of their children.

Three Head Start families visited Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) looking for answers and got none.

“My daughter has to learn because she has to go into kindergarten next year,” Andrea Lopez said, expressing worry.

NEON Board of Directors Chairman Mike Berkhoff said by phone later Friday that the agency’s School Readiness program will be open Monday through Friday next week.

NEON’s Head Start program was suspended Oct. 24 by the federal Administration for Children and Families, which appointed Community Development Institute (CDI) as the agency in charge of the program. Although CDI has obtained the licenses needed to open the program in the Norwalk buildings operated by NEON and Norwalk politicians said this week that they were hoping Head Start would resume by Friday, there is no indication that it will be open Monday.

The hotline set up by CDI had the same information late Friday that it had Thursday: no start date has been scheduled.

“I talked with the mayor and he say he try to open Friday,” Lopez said. “He never do anything.”

Rilling called interim NEON CEO and President the Rev. Tommie Jackso, Friday morning, while NancyOnNorwalk was in his office.

“Is there any way I can help out?” he said, going on to request that Jackson update him every other day.

Rilling told Jackson that people who are affected by the shutdown have been visiting him in his office.

NEON Head Start employees said Friday they have not been interviewed by CDI for positions with CDI Head Start.

Lopez said she and her husband have been going to work, but feel people are not giving them straight answers and are concerned about the quality of the childcare NEON is offering as a stopgap measure.

“We know there is no safety so we are worried for our kids,” Maria Sanchez said. “… We are worried because everybody is saying different ways. When we go to the mayor, he is saying they are supposed to open today. We tried to call him and he never answered the phone. We went to talk to the other guy. We called twice today but they have no called back.”

The “other guy” was state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140).

“Now we don’t trust in anybody,” Sanchez said. “(Morris) tried to talk to the guy (at CDI). He not have news right now – I have to wait. He tried to make another meeting with him to get good news. But it’s wait, wait, wait. We have – one month.”

“I want the truth because everybody says different things,” Lopez said.

“We are worried for our kids, what is going to happen,” Sanchez said. “They not going to learn nothing.”


14 responses to “Norwalk Head Start parents look for answers”

  1. Lifelong Teacher

    They aren’t learning anything at NEON anyway. Maybe that should be the issue. It isn’t anything more than day care. And now it seems that parents are worried at it isn’t even safe daycare.

    If we didn’t have a stripped down bare skeleton of a Central Office and dysfunctional board of education (again), the best thing would be for NPS to take it over. Then we wouldn’t have a huge gap with these kids as they walk in the kindergarten door.

  2. The Norwalker

    Just a reminder preschool is very important when done right>


  3. M Allen

    Gotta say I’m kind of tired of hearing about NEON. How about an interview with CDI about where they are in the process, what they are experiencing, etc. We kind of keep rehashing the NEON story like we expect the news for them is going to change. The absolute best thing that can happen here is for the new and other groups to step in, talk over the various services and let NEON either regroup or fade away. The organization has zero credibility until audits and everything else happens. We can expect them to reintegrate back into the system right away. Of they opened their doors to services tomorrow it would be rushed. Someone else needs to take over everything.

  4. Casey Smith

    Lifelong Teacher – I have to agree with you that Head Start isn’t all it is touted to be. At best the studies I saw had ambiguous results. Oddly enough, once upon a time kids entered kindergarten without any preschool experience and did just fine.
    Having NPS take over the program would be one possible answer, but it would have incorporate the after school care, also. That would be tricky.
    It’s a sad situation, but for some reason, CDI doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to straighten the mess out.

  5. amazed

    Is CDI holding up the process or Federal Headstart? CDI takes direction from the funder which is Federal Headstart.

  6. Oldtimer

    If the problem was how the money was being handled. Wouldn’t it have made sense to address that problem, rather than trying to transfer the entire operation to some company from Colorado ? The funding agency could have maintained control of the money and issued checks only after receipts or time sheets were presented. Essentially, they could have appointed their own trusted receiver, kept the program running, and avoided an awful lot of drama for the folks depending on the program for services or jobs. What they have done seems to be punishing people who had no part in mishandling their money.

  7. concern person

    Stop putting teachers down how u know what they learned from neon stop hating on the staff instead encourage them the children learn alot from school teachers try their best. Those children love their teachers and the teachers love them if u feel they not learning anything u must not have visit the school or sat in any classroom to see the results if your a so call teacher then support other teachers there are different types of learning and they do a great job get your.facts right before u talk about what there learning

  8. M Allen

    Oldtimer – you bring in outsiders like CDI because once you’ve yanked their funding you’re pretty much writing them off. As if off for a long time. Not off until the do a hick housecleaning. It’s not just about the money. It’s about the management and culture and irresponsible board that sat on the deck ordering drinks while the SS NEON went bow down.

  9. Tim T

    The answer is simple shut down NEON. Its time that the welfare mothers start paying for their own kids daycare. Maybe if they didn’t depend on the state as in the taxpayer to pay for them, they would think twice about having kids they can’t afford. Hey they could always ask the babies daddy to pay.

  10. Casey Smith

    Uh, Concern Person – no one was, as you put it, “hating on the staff”. The studies regarding the Head Start program effectiveness are very mixed. In some instances, the students appear to have learned a great deal; in others, not so much. Bottom line – no one really seems to know for sure.
    The issue is really NEON’s misappropriation of funds and sadly Head Start is just collateral damage, as much as I dislike using that term when it involved young children. The staff are right in there with the kids, victims of the agency’s inability to deal with the problems.
    It seems very odd that the CDI can’t seem to get their act together and get the program up and running again, which leads me to wonder whether or not a decision was made up the line on a Federal level to deep six NEON. By stalling around and letting screw ups like the check problem happen, it shifts the focus from the higher agencies back to NEON, so when the plug is finally pulled everyone will breathe a sigh of relief.
    I agree with East Norwalk’s comment on the other article. How hard can processing the payroll be? Surely in a city of 86,000 people there had to be SOMEONE SOMEWHERE that knows how to process a payroll correctly. This has progressed from being a bad situation, to a worst case scenario and quickly is heading towards tragic.

  11. The Norwalker

    M Allen

    Surely there are several organizations in Southwestern and Western Connecticut Counties that could have taken over Management of Norwalk Headstart, why expand the search to Colorado?

  12. M Allen

    The Norwalker, It would seem CDI is a known entity to the Feds. Perhaps they have been utilized as an emergency replacement in the past and are used as such when necessary. Do we believe there is some nefarious reason the Feds May have for choosing CDI rather than a local org? And for managing HS, does it matter where CDI’s headquarters is located? And when you say that there are other orgs in the area that could have taken over HS, I don’t know. Are there? Ones that have direct HS experience? I think the goal was to get HS re-opened as soon as possible using an experienced group. That has obviously been delayed and I would love to know exactly why. But then again, maybe this is just the government at work and the government is slow.

  13. Wondering…

    …where has the Early Childhood Council been these past six months?

  14. H Williams

    The head start program is a great program in my eyes my children and grandsons have been through the program. The problems are that the head start funding source has been letting NEON get away with it for TOO MANY years and there have been too many crooks running the show. It is time to STOP and Get an Agency that has ran a successful Head Start program and let them take over their are very dedicated teachers and staff at NEON. I know because I was one of them that worked for many years. Many of the staff at NEON have dedicated many years and it is not fair that they lose their jobs because of all the Incompetent Executive Directors and Board Members. The ones that suffer are the CHILDREN the most.

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