Osage Nation Closes Two Head Start Programs

By Kyle Walker / Originally published July 23, 2015 in The Bigheart Times

Citing low Osage enrollment, the Osage Nation says it will not open the Head Start centers it operates in Barnsdall or McCord this coming school year.

The Head Start in Barnsdall had an enrollment of 17 students, four of whom were Osage. McCord served 18 students and no Osages.

The closures were announced by letter to the parents of children enrolled for this upcoming school year.

Debra Atterberry, executive advisor to the chief and acting education services administrator, said the resources freed up by the closures would go to other Head Start programs.

“We can redistribute that money,” Atterberry said, “where we actually have a waiting list of Osages waiting to get into the Head Start programs … The bottom line is we do want to serve as many Osage children as possible, and by doing this that’s what we’re doing.”

The Osage Nation spent over $465,000 last year operating Head Start programs throughout the county—around $2,225 per student. The Nation does not fund the whole program by itself; the Head Start budget is filled out by federal funds.

Specific numbers on the Barnsdall and McCord Head Start budgets were not available, but assuming that each student at the two programs cost $2,225, then the closures will make available more than $82,000 for use at other programs.

Under the same assumption, the Osage Nation was spending almost $9,500 per Osage child at the Barnsdall center.

The Nation could also make more openings available at the remaining Head Start programs, according to Atterberry.

This decision does not mean that the Barnsdall and McCord programs are gone for good.

“I want the people to know that we do have a plan in place to recruit in those areas like Barnsdall and McCord and hope to have enough Osage children to open a Head Start in the future,” Atterberry said.

Atterberry acknowledged that the decision may not be a popular one.

“The parents and citizens of Barnsdall and McCord are disappointed because we’ve had such a good Head Start program in both communities for many years,” she said. “We’ve received several letters and calls regarding the closures, and yes there are some parents that are very disappointed.

“But we have told them that students in both communities can enroll in Pawhuska, Fairfax and Skiatook [Head Starts] if they choose. That is an option.”

But parents like Garry “Gib” Malone say they don’t see that as a good alternative.

“You know that’s putting my family out on highways where anything could happen,” said Malone, whose four-year-old son was enrolled in the Barnsdall Head Start. “We have four other kids. Whenever it was in Barnsdall we had to drive two blocks … I won’t enroll my kids in Pawhuska or Skiatook.”

Malone appreciated the Head Start program while it was around and says it has been great for his son.

“My son has social and developmental problems, and the people there have really helped him open up … This program has been beyond a help for him.”

“We think it’s terrible that it’s closing.”