Jule Meyer Sugarman, who was a director and primary architect of the Head Start program, died of cancer at his home in Seattle on November 2, reports the Washington Post. He was 83.
Head Start is the federal early childhood education program that was created in 1965 as a way to close the achievement gap between low-income and middle-class children. It has since served millions of preschoolers.
President Johnson’s War On Poverty
Five-year-olds “are inheritors of poverty’s curse and not its creators,” President Lyndon B. Johnson said when he introduced Head Start as part of his War on Poverty program. “Unless we act, these children will pass it on to the next generation like a family birthmark.”
Consultants advised a small, pilot project, but Sargent Shriver, the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity at the time, pushed for a full-scale effort. Consequently, more than half a million children were enrolled in an eight-week summer program with a budget of $96.4 million. And in August, 1965, President Johnson announced that it would become a full-year program.
Much of this was due to Jule Sugarman.
27 Million Preschoolers Served So Far
“Jule Sugarman was absolutely central in mounting the program and was an administrative genius,” says Edward Zigler, a Yale psychology professor who succeeded Mr. Sugarman as Head Start director in 1970. “The rest of us were scholars and experts on children; his bureaucratic brilliance is what the rest of us did not have.”
And surely his brilliance is borne out by the fact that Head Start has lasted for 45 years and served 27 million children.
1.1 Million Children In 2010
Currently, the program has a budget of $8 billion, and there are more than 1.1 million enrollees, 225,000 staff and 2,800 Head Start programs in the United States.
Visiting one of those programs recently in Washington, DC, was a complete inspiration: friendly, skilled teachers, lively surroundings, and energetic, engaged children. I spent most of my time watching a group of 4-year-olds using blocks to create a rocket ship – or was it a birthday cake? They couldn’t decide, but it was great to them building together, working cooperatively, all under the watchful eye of their teacher.
Thank You, Mr. Sugarman
Without Head Start, they wouldn’t have that opportunity. Thank you, Mr. Sugarman.
How about you? Do you have a Head Start kid? Or are you a Head Start veteran? What did it mean to you?
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