At 9:30 am Thursday (Oct. 24) a letter was sent to Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now Incorporated (NEON) management informing the agency that its authority to administer Norwalk’s Head Start program was suspended, according to a release from NEON.
The decision was made by the federal Office of Head Start of the Administration for Children & Families.
The anti-poverty agency has experienced troubling times and recently appointed a new Board Chairman, Mike Berkoff in hopes of " transforming the agency into an effective, efficient and fiscally sound organization."
The agency's troubles stemmed from financial deficiencies and unanticipated expenses incurred during its merger with Stamford’s troubled CTE (Career and Technical Education).
Early in October, The Dept. of Corrections moved to dissolve its contract with the agency.
Despite Thursday's announcement NEON Child Development programs opened on Friday morning, but the status of the program’s operation on Monday, October 28th remains uncertain, according to the release.
NEON plans to communicate with parents at the earliest possible date to let them know about the status of the agency’s child care programs for next week.
NEON management called an emergency meeting with Head Start parents Thursday night at 5:00 pm at Nathaniel Ely School, 11 Ingalls Ave, where information was provided about the decision from federal Head Start. Out of concern about the future for the child care program dozens of parents, some with their children in tow, left Ely School to gather at Norwalk City Hall where they spoke with several City Council members and Norwalk Mayoral candidate Harry Rilling.
The Federal Office of Head Start has assigned the Community Development Institute Head Start (CDI HS) to serve as the interim grantee for this program, with their objective being to re-open Norwalk Head Start as soon as possible. NEON management has committed to fully cooperate with CDI HS to facilitate a smooth transition and expedite the re-opening of Head Start at the earliest possible date.
CDI HS will be meeting with current NEON Head Start employees this week to provide information on the process of applying for employment during the transition period.
Thursday's suspension of NEON’s authority to administer Head Start was made with virtually no notice to the agency, according to the release from NEON. As was specified in Thursday's meeting, the suspension process permits NEON to schedule discussion with Office of Head Start officials to investigate the opportunity for appealing this decision, which the agency will pursue.
NEON Acting CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson responded to the news by stating, “While NEON has been addressing and responding to Office of Head Start concerns regarding our program, we were surprised to learn of (Thursday's) suspension." Stephenson said the sudden closure of Head Start will throw hundreds of families into chaos. "We feel this inconvenience could have been avoided had federal Head Start officials worked with NEON to plan ahead for any transition to new management," Stephenson added in the release.