Lyles: Head Start programs were meant to close the poverty gap


Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles said that Head Start programs were originally intended to close the poverty gap in urban communities during a panel about pre-K programs in urban communities on Wednesday night.


In 31 Abbott districts, Pre-K programs were implemented by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a result of the finance equity battle by the Education Law Center.

Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles mentioned her participation in the local Head Start program as a proactive parent asking teachers how to support the educational system.

“I think a commitment to a continuous improvement [in Jersey City] is a critical part. The value of being a Head Start parent is how I should advocate for my child … to understand and move forward together. That’s certainly a principal in our early childhood program as well,” said Lyles.

The Abbott V decision during New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1998 verdict to mandate brilliant minded preschoolers, full-day kindergarten, and small classes of 22 students or less, arose after the 1965 implementation of the Head Start program – directed towards low-income students.

“What’s so compelling is [Head Start] was really directed to address the inequities of children living in poverty and children of color. It was directed to closing that gap and that is what we have to remember that we have to pay particular attention to that,” Lyles recalled.

“That’s why I always get a little nervous about variability. That’s why I embrace an accountability system that these are your standards, this is what should be happening in these classrooms and we have to ensure that.”

The panel further discussed President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty and whether or not it is possible to truly be eliminated.

“Poverty is not going to get off the map just because we wish it away. We’re going to have to find ways to bring our children along and make sure they get the education they need and that they get a job once they get out of school or stay in school long enough to get an education because we have such a high dropout rate,” said Ora Welch, President & CEO of HOPES.

Gina Verdibello, a parent advocate and former Jersey City board of education candidate, and Bill Armbruster, a retired journalist and community activist, questioned the panel’s initiative to create a safe haven for the community’s children.

They asked why three- and four-year-old students are being put in either in trailers for school.

“Many of them are in trailers. We are challenged for space. First of all, in terms of volume, we’ve talked about 75% of our buildings are 80 years or more so they weren’t built with the necessary requirements from square footage to bathrooms so that’s one of the issues,” she responded.

Lyles announced that in the fall, a new elementary school will be built and have 150 early childhood seats, which would not eliminate the usage of trailers, but would help alleviate some challenges for students in Jersey City.

Other Abbott District challenges that were considered during the panel are the other 102 districts that don’t have Pre-K programs.

Sam Crane, coordinator of Pre-K Our Way, spoke about the advantages and disadvantages of some cities adopting preschool education, and other schools not having the funding and resources to do so, such as schools in Bayonne and Belleville.

“Besides the educational advantage, besides the economic outcome, recently, there was a police chief that testified in front of legislature that they’re supporting Pre-K because it’s the best crime reduction program around,” he explained.

“We have set up a system now, in which 35 [districts] have a great program. We have 102 that don’t. That kid in Bayonne that needs it is no different than Jersey City.”

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