Head Start preschools close in White River Junction and Windsor

Karlene Besaw, of Windsor, kisses her grandson Zayne Sanville, 3, while dropping him off for for preschool at Children's Place, a Southeastern Vermont Community Action administered Head Start program, in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. The preschool will close in May due to low enrollment and budget issues. Oliver Brown, 4, is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Karlene Besaw, of Windsor, kisses her grandson Zayne Sanville, 3, while dropping him off for for preschool at Children's Place, a Southeastern Vermont Community Action administered Head Start program, in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. The preschool will close in May due to low enrollment and budget issues. Oliver Brown, 4, is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Lead Teacher Susan Brown, left, helps Lucas Collins, 4, right, Ezekiel McNeil, 4, left, and Livian Franks, 5, right, write their names with quill pens at Children’s Place Preschool in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Brown also serves as center manager for Children's Place and practice based coach, supporting teachers at two more Head Start preschools in Windsor County. With the closure of the Windsor center in May, Brown will transition to full time in the coaching position. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lead Teacher Susan Brown, left, helps Lucas Collins, 4, right, Ezekiel McNeil, 4, left, and Livian Franks, 5, right, write their names with quill pens at Children’s Place Preschool in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Brown also serves as center manager for Children's Place and practice based coach, supporting teachers at two more Head Start preschools in Windsor County. With the closure of the Windsor center in May, Brown will transition to full time in the coaching position. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Denise Kingsbury, a licensed teacher, right, offers to repair a ripped stuffed animal found by Summer Allen, 4, of Quechee, left, at Children’s Place Preschool, in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Kingsbury said she expected to take over as lead teacher at Children's Place when the current lead, Susan Brown, moves into a different position with Head Start next year. Because of the school's closure in May, she'll now need to look for a new job outside the organization. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Denise Kingsbury, a licensed teacher, right, offers to repair a ripped stuffed animal found by Summer Allen, 4, of Quechee, left, at Children’s Place Preschool, in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Kingsbury said she expected to take over as lead teacher at Children's Place when the current lead, Susan Brown, moves into a different position with Head Start next year. Because of the school's closure in May, she'll now need to look for a new job outside the organization. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley New photographs — James M. Patterson

Lead teacher Susan Brown helps resolve a sharing conflict between Oliver Brown, 4, and Zayne Sanville, 3, right, at Children’s Place Preschool, in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Brown said that preparing students for kindergarten and teaching them to self-regulate is her goal.

Lead teacher Susan Brown helps resolve a sharing conflict between Oliver Brown, 4, and Zayne Sanville, 3, right, at Children’s Place Preschool, in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Brown said that preparing students for kindergarten and teaching them to self-regulate is her goal. "To watch them learn from their peers is magical," she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Teacher assistant Mimi Collins gets a hug from Ezekiel McNeill, 4, as he and his classmates, from left, Livian Franks, 5, Summer Allen, 4, and Lucas Collins, 4, front right, present her with a pretend birthday dinner at Children’s Place Preschool in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. The school currently has seven students and four staff members. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Teacher assistant Mimi Collins gets a hug from Ezekiel McNeill, 4, as he and his classmates, from left, Livian Franks, 5, Summer Allen, 4, and Lucas Collins, 4, front right, present her with a pretend birthday dinner at Children’s Place Preschool in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. The school currently has seven students and four staff members. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

After a busy morning of breakfast, dancing, crafts, recording the weather and discussing the bird of the day, Children’s Place Preschool students Livian Franks, 5, left, Oliver Brown, 4, and Zayne Sanville, 3, watch squirrels on the lawn of Children's Place Preschool in Windsor, Vt., and anticipate a passing train on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. The preschool will close in May and the building will become office space for Head Start managers. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

After a busy morning of breakfast, dancing, crafts, recording the weather and discussing the bird of the day, Children’s Place Preschool students Livian Franks, 5, left, Oliver Brown, 4, and Zayne Sanville, 3, watch squirrels on the lawn of Children's Place Preschool in Windsor, Vt., and anticipate a passing train on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. The preschool will close in May and the building will become office space for Head Start managers. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By CHRISTINA DOLAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-04-2024 7:01 PM

Modified: 03-08-2024 1:07 PM


WINDSOR — Staffing shortages will leave Windsor and White River Junction without Head Start preschools next year.

Southeastern Vermont Community Action, or SEVCA, which administers Windsor County’s Head Start preschool programs, announced the closures in a Feb. 16 press release.

In fact, the Northwoods Preschool, located off Sykes Mountain Road in White River Junction is already closed. It was unable to open this past fall when it had 10 returning families but no employees.

“We did everything we could to attract staff, including offering sign-on bonuses,” Windsor County Head Start Director Lori Canfield said in a recent interview. But the program was “fighting an uphill battle to be comparable with the school districts,” with pay rates starting at the Vermont minimum wage of $13.67 per hour and ranging from $3 to $10 lower than similar positions in other schools.

Head Start is a federally funded program that provides no-cost early learning, health, nutrition and family services to families with children between ages 3 and 5 who meet income requirements.

Because it has “prescriptive federal funding, SEVCA Head Start has not been able to be competitive on salary,” SEVCA’s press release said.

Windsor County Head Start currently operates preschools in the Vermont towns of Windsor, Springfield and Chester. Each location is open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. during the school year.

In addition to the shuttered Northwoods Preschool, Head Start’s Children’s Place Preschool on Main Street in Windsor will close this May.

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The Windsor and White River Junction closures are part of a “change in scope” plan approved by the regional Head Start office, Canfield said.

The plan will allow the Chester Community Preschool and Springfield’s Pine Street Preschool to offer more competitive wages, expand their hours and to operate year round, which will better serve the needs of working families.

Head Start owns the Children’s Place Preschool building on Main Street in Windsor and intends to use it as administrative office space for the near future.

It plans to seek grant funding to open an Early Head Start program within the next few years, which will serve children from infancy to age 3.

Head Start still maintains the physical space where the Northwoods Preschool was located and has not yet determined what will happen to that space, Canfield said.

All of the families who originally planned to attend Northwoods this year have transitioned to other local preschools.

“It’s important to know that we put a lot of thought into it,” Canfield said of the closures. “We knew that it would affect children and families, and we worked to provide resources to make sure they had somewhere to go.”

Children’s Place teacher and Windsor resident Miriam Collins’ son attends the preschool and will be in kindergarten next year.

“It’s a huge loss,” Collins, 31, said in a recent interview. “You grow a bond with these kids,” and the news of the closures “hit us hard,” she said.

Head Start helps children develop language and social skills, and become accustomed to routines that prepare them well for kindergarten, Collins said.

“We really, really love this program,” Windsor resident Eterei Fanolua, 32, said in an interview.

Her son Oliver, who turned 4 in January, attends the preschool.

“It has helped him tremendously with his development,” she said.

A Head Start family partner is working with each of the Windsor preschool’s eight families to help them find alternative programs, Canfield said.

Oliver is on a waiting list for the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union’s preschool program for next year.

The closures in Windsor and White River Junction will eliminate nine staff positions.

“It’s been frankly awful. They know that when the program ends in May they won’t have jobs,” Canfield said.

Collins has applied for a position at a local public preschool and is waiting to hear back.

Teacher associate Denise Kingsbury, 28, of Rockingham, Vt., is in her 10th year of working for Head Start.

There are positions available in Chester and Springfield, but the roles are not comparable to her current level of experience and responsibility, she said.

“I don’t have a Plan B,” she said in an interview.

Christina Dolan can be reached at cdolan@vnews.com or 603-727-3208.

CORRECTION: Denise Kingsbury is a teacher associate at Head Start  ’s Children’s Place Preschool in Windsor. A previous version of this story misstated Kingsbury’s title and misspelled her last name.