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Head Start opening delayed: Training problems, staff vacancies cited

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A key employee’s firing led to an opening delay in the Head Start program for children in Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties, according to the agency’s board of directors.

Ginell Rogers, executive director of Nash-Edgecombe Economic Development, dismissed a worker due to teachers reportedly not being trained. NEED oversees Head Start programs in the three counties.

The last-minute personnel change resulted in the delay on Aug. 26. The program was set to open this Tuesday, according to a letter emailed late last week to The Enterprise.

NEED Chairman Leslie Atkinson and Vice Chairwoman Stacie Shatzer signed the two-page letter. Atkinson also serves as vice chairman of the Wilson County Board of Commissioners. Shatzer is assistant manager of Nash County.

In the letter, NEED officials did not say who had been released but apparently anticipated controversy.

“It has come to the attention of NEED management and (the) board of directors that you might will be hearing from Head Start parents or disgruntled staff,” the letter states. “We, management and board of directors, wish to provide some clarifying information up front in order to help shape an accurate story, should it be told.”

Although listed as the point of contact for questions about the situation, Rogers couldn’t be reached for comment at the telephone number provided. Messages weren’t returned in time for this story.

Although not confirmed by NEED officials as the dismissed employee in question, Shiquita Blue, manager of family engagement and community partnerships, is no longer employed at NEED as of late last week, according to an employee at the agency and social media comments made by concerned parents.

Blue, instrumental in the Head Start program at NEED, has been with the agency since 2008. She is also an adjunct instructor at Halifax Community College and Ashford University. She has a doctorate in organization and management.

Blue couldn’t be reached be reached for comment.

Over the past three months, NEED retained several consultants with decades of experience in Head Start programs to help Rogers write grants to cover Head Start for the next five years and evaluate the current program, according to the letter.

“Last week, which was the second week of pre-service training for our teaching staff, it became clear to the consultants, management and board of directors that our teaching staff were not getting trained on the new standards/requirements of the Head Start program,” the letter states. “Because of this, we made the decision to delay the opening of our Head Start programs in Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties.”

The letter states NEED made “personnel changes,” adding that the agency would not comment regarding current of former employment actions.

The agency, Rogers and the board are embroiled in a wrongful termination and age discrimination lawsuit filed by three former employees, including Evelyn Powell, an Edgecombe County commissioner.

Powell, 60, claims Rogers suspended her without pay for six months over an incident in which a teacher allegedly pinched a student. Powell, NEED’s education manager at the time, wasn’t on site when the incident occurred.

The lawsuit claims Rogers said Powell failed to properly train the teacher.

Powell said NEED demoted her to teacher’s assistant, which effectively served as termination since the change from director to teacher’s assistant meant an annual loss of $17,000.

Formed in 1964 to provide grants and services to low-income families in Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties, NEED controls $10 million annually in the administration of Head Start and Community Development Block Grant programs in the three counties.

Head Start programs promote school readiness of children 5 and younger from low-income families through education, health, social and other services, according to information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.