Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Campfield Head Start Center, a National Head Start Center of Excellence in Baltimore, Maryland, with Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, the Director of Head Start at the Administration of Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services. During this visit, we toured the center; I read to a classroom of pre-school children; at one point, I even sang along with students to the old favorite, “If you’re happy and you know it.” This experience was such a treat for me, and it was so inspiring to see the pure innocence and joy in the faces of the students.
It’s on behalf of our youngest learners that the Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are coordinating our work on programs like Head Start. Our investment in early learning is especially important for our Latino students, who make up the largest minority in this country’s preschool population at 20 percent! We at ED are deeply committed to an education agenda that supports a continuum of learning beginning at birth for all students, and I’m honored to work with HHS to provide support for organizations like the Campfield Head Start Center.
This kind of interagency partnership is so important, but it is not easy to develop and maintain. Just like school districts and state offices, we in the federal government have a history of working in silos, without coordinating our work as much as we should. This is starting to change, however, and all of us in the Obama Administration are committed to breaking down these barriers so that we can all better support educational reform at the state and local levels, out-educate our global competitors and ultimately win the future.
At ED, we have taken an active role in various interagency initiatives to support states, districts, and schools. In addition to our work on early learning, we are partnering with HHS to better support foster children. We are also one of 19 agencies in the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, where we are charged with executing the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. I truly believe that strong partnerships – at the federal, state, and local levels – will help develop successful students. It’s my hope that our interagency efforts will provide better, more comprehensive support for states and districts, and also serve as a model for local leaders as they work towards improved academic outcomes for all children.
Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana is Assistant Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education.