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#GovPossible Spotlight: Celebrating Public Service with the Office of Head Start

May 08, 2024

By Performance.gov Team

Banner depeciting Association for Children & Families.

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As we celebrate Public Service Recognition Week, we focus on the hard work of public servants who make each day #GovPossible.

Empowering Children and Families

Since 1965, Head Start programs have supported children from birth to age five in low-income families through administering grant funding and oversight to about 1,700 public and private nonprofit and for-profit agencies. Through partnerships between researchers and local programs, Head Start provides academic, social, and emotional development services to promote the school readiness of children.

With approximately 250,000 dedicated staff, Head Start and Early Head Start grant recipients serve hundreds of thousands of children each year, spanning every U.S. state and territory, including more than 155 tribal communities.

Performance.gov had the privilege of interviewing two key figures within Head Start:

  • Amanda Bryans, Senior Branch Chief, Education and Research to Practice Supervisor, and
  • Clarence Small, Regional Program Manager.

Meet Amanda and Clarence

Photo of Amanda Bryans

Amanda Bryans’ journey with Head Start spans over thirty years, ensuring its programs effectively meet the needs of children and families nationwide, regardless of their location or background. One of Amanda’s key strengths lies in her ability to partner with tribal communities, migrant programs, and community organizations. These partnerships help Head Start gain valuable insights into the specific needs of diverse populations across the country.

“[Head Start is] founded on the idea that parents are experts in their own children and that they know their communities better than people from outside the communities.”

Amanda leads efforts in education and research, evaluating family needs, supporting parents, and connecting them with essential community services. Through home visits and program reviews, Amanda is able to examine the impact of Head Start programs as a whole and how those impacts vary for different populations and communities. Additionally, Head Start offers federal policy guidance and a training system for grant recipients, aiding in the delivery of comprehensive services to eligible young children and families.

Amanda ensures high-quality education and support in Head Start programs, designing effective teaching approaches that meet the needs of children from all different backgrounds. She also collaborates with community organizations and policymakers to address specific needs of families, such as housing or food insecurity. Amanda shares with us that Head Start is a constant effort.

“We’re never finished… We take very seriously the idea that we need to provide the very best the country has to offer for children and families.”

Photo of Clarence Small

A Kansas City native, Clarence Small has also always had a strong passion for making a difference in his community. Starting in 1999, he began what has become a near lifelong career at Head Start as a Regional Program Manager, overseeing programs across Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa, known as Region VII.

As the Regional Program Manager for Region VII, Clarence is in the day-to-day action of Head Start. Region VII currently has over 19,000 Head Start enrollees, collaborating with over 70 grantees to meet program needs. That’s where Clarence comes in. From creating a work environment that fosters innovation to overseeing the regional contracts with grantees, Clarence is a man on the move. He shares with us that one of the best parts about his job is that no day is the same.

“Head Start is a movement and it is constantly moving my day. You know, there are days when it’s been fantastic because I’m hearing from our grantee recipients that I get pictures of different events that are going on…from ribbon cuttings of center openings to some accomplishment in a classroom, those things excite me.”

The Team in Action

Both Amanda and Clarence’s passion is palpable and both had many memories and experiences to share about their work.

During one of Amanda’s program reviews in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Amanda had the opportunity to interview parents and hear about the impact of Head Start on their families. One mother’s story has stuck with her: despite a challenging upbringing with few family meals spent together, the mother started attending lunchtime sessions at Head Start to learn how to create moments of connection. Eventually, she began to prioritize regular family dinners with her children.

Photo of Amanda reading with children

This interaction underscores the transformative impact of Head Start on families. Through Amanda’s work, she continues to make a meaningful difference in the lives of countless individuals and families across the nation, embodying the true spirit of public service.

Photo of Clarence Small

As a Regional Program Manager, part of Clarence’s duties includes visiting classrooms where Head Start programs are run. During a 2003 visit to the Lancaster and Saunders Counties Community Action Partnership, Inc., a Nebraska classroom, Clarence struck up a conversation with a young boy. Clarence struck up a conversation with him and the boy asked him if he would be his friend and visit his class to meet his classmates. Clarence said yes, and continued about his day. The next day, Clarence received a call from the school letting him know that this boy told all his friends that his new friend Clarence would be coming to school so he better be coming soon.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. I’m about 25 miles away from this school and this program ends at Noon and it’s already after 10 AM, I’ll never make it there on time.’ Well, long story short, I ended up getting a police escort to make it on time.”

On arrival, the entire school had been waiting out front to greet Clarence. This may seem like a small moment, but this demonstrates exactly who Clarence is. Someone who shows up even if he needs to call for a special escort along the way.

Join the Head Start Movement

Both Clarence and Amanda demonstrate the power of public service to positively impact both someone’s career and perspective, but also entire communities. Both have dedicated a majority of their life to the mission of Head Start and neither are ready to retire. In fact, they’re both ready for others to join them. Take it from Clarence who shared this with us:

“Listen, there’s a lot of important work out there. But this work is not only important, but just like the logo says, ‘It’s Heart Work…’ If you do it, and you do it with heart and with passion, you can make a difference. Working in the Office of Head Start has been a fantastic journey. If I had to do it all over again, I would and I would have started even sooner. We need all hands on deck so that our future continues to be bright and our children can grow up with a chance.”

Head Start has shaped not only Clarence and Amanda’s lives, but the lives of families across the country. Public servants like Clarence and Amanda help make #GovPossible every day. We encourage you to celebrate them through Public Service Recognition Week. Learn more about Head Start on their website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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