by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
Yvette Dobbs, the new director of the Social Development Commission’s (SDC) vaunted Head Start program said she doesn’t lose any sleep over the negative press her program has garnered recently.
“It doesn’t keep me up at night worrying,” said Dobbs. “It keeps me up at night motivated. My job is to prove we have a great program.”
Touting itself as a program that readies preschoolers for school and life, SDC’s Head Start program instills in children age 3 to 5 academic and social skills, as well as offer them health and dental screenings, nutritious meals and extensive parental involvement at various sites across Milwaukee County.
The programs budget is approximately $21 million. The amount is determined by the cost of living.
Dobbs said the hardest part of her new job is encountering people who don’t know all the great things Head Start does for children and low-income families using a holistic approach which utilizes state-of-the-art techniques and programs that help children, while helping families become self-sufficient.
Head Start also assists foster parent families and grandparents raising their grandchildren.
There are currently 3,034 children in the program. According to a recent performance report, there are 560 staffers. Dobbs credits several dynamic partnerships between the program and organizations in the community for Head Start’s continued success.
She noted partnerships with Marquette University’s School of Dentistry and MATC.
Whether they know it or not, Dobbs says, people see the positive outcomes in children who have gone through the organization’s program and have gone on to have academic success later in life.
“We don’t spend enough time touting the great things we do here. Our time is consumed fending off the negative press,” Dobb said.
It’s the negative press that clouds the fact SDC’s Head Start program is one of the best in the United States.
“We provide the quality programs, training and technical assistance that is above anyone one else in the U.S. Our goal is to be the best. That’s lofty, but we have to shoot for the highest goals we can.”
This is Dobbs’ second stint with SDC. After graduating from college, Dobbs worked for the agency in its drug and alcohol program.
She then moved on to the Milwaukee Community Prevention Coalition. She also worked for the Neighborhood Partners Organization. She then became manager of the organization that was the precursor of Community Partners, “Safe and Sound.”
She has also worked with the Milwaukee Urban League, Innovative Community Solutions and Urban Day School, where she was its Head Start director. Urban Day is one of SDC’s delegate sites around Milwaukee County providing Head Start services.
Dobbs returns to SDC from Parents Plus of Wisconsin where she was the Parental Information and Resource Center Director. She oversaw the U.S. Department of Education programming of parental involvement activities in all 426 school districts in the state.
The new Head Start director has a list of things she’d like to see the program improve on, which includes making sure it is complying with all federal rules and regulations, improving the way Head Start provides services, and improve its commitment to parents, who Dobbs describes as “active, vocal and enthusiastic. “They want to be involved with the program and their children’s’ education.”
Dobbs doesn’t think the program will lose any of its funding, adding SDC has taken steps to clear-up any problems and concerns the federal government has.
The program is now in the midst of what Dobbs called “recompetition,” which requires SDC and other Head Start programs around the country to go through a process in which they are reviewed to make sure they are in compliance with federal regulations.
Dobbs said the recompetition is part of the government’s new agenda to make sure all Head Start programs provide quality service. SDC is among 122 first tier programs going through the process, which will take three to five years to complete.
The agency is currently writing a grant focusing on improving educational readiness. The grant must be turned in by July 19. Dobbs said they hope to have a response by the first of November.
Dobbs also wants to develop a training academy for Head Start staff to learn leadership skills they would use to train others throughout the Midwest and other parts of the U.S. in the rules and regulations related to the program.