Former Head of Texas Agency Appointed Federal Head Start Director
Blanca Estela Enriquez, who has led the Region 19 Head Start program in El Paso, Texas since 1986, was introduced as the new national director of Head Start on the last day of the National Head Start Association convention on Thursday.
The crowd cheered as Enriquez took the stage and told providers to "recommit, hold hands, and work together" for the program. Region 19 Head Start serves more than 4,500 children in El Paso and Hudspeth counties.
Ann Linehan, the acting director of Head Start since December 2013, will return to her position as deputy director, according to an announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start is an office within HHS.
Enriquez's experience with Head Start and early-childhood education is extensive, including a stint on an early-education advisory committee to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. She also served on a federal committee that in 2008 created the framework for one of the biggest changes to Head Start since its inception: a grant competition process that requires centers to recompete for federal funds.
I interviewed Enriquez last year for an article about the 50th anniversary of Head Start, and she shared her own experience with the competition process, known as designation renewal. She said at that time the competition will ultimately improve the Head Start program, but that the extensive re-evaluation process was difficult. "They make it like you're the black sheep," she said in the article. "You have to wonder if this designation renewal is really getting at the core of those programs that have no business implementing early-childhood education." Region 19 retained its Head Start grant at the end of the process.
Secretary Introduces Herself as 'Head Start Kid'
The closing ceremony of the Head Start Association's meeting featured an address by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of HHS.
To the surprise and apparent delight of the audience, Burwell told the gathering she prepared for her address by asking her mother to reach out to Burwell's Head Start teacher. "Yes, I'm a Head Start kid," she said, to applause. Burwell attended the program as a child growing up in West Virginia.
Her teacher still remembered Burwell, and said that as a child, she would come and say "what are we going to learn today?"
Said Burwell to the audience. "You all keep the American dream alive. Thank you, from this Head Start kid."
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Photo: Blanca Enriquez courtesy of Education Service Center Region 19