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It’s a Wrap: Special Announcements and Surprises from HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell

Wow! From an amazing  50 year Anniversary Gala celebration on Wednesday evening to a Closing Session reflecting on the profound impact of Head Start and its successes, the past 24 hours certainly have been a whirlwind!

Bringing an already eventful and exciting day to a close on Wednesday, NHSA’s 50th Anniversary Gala and Head Start Champions’ Reception were wonderful opportunities to pause and celebrate.

We were thrilled to have Timothy Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver, who President Lyndon Johnson personally appointed to lead the War on Poverty program in 1964, speak at the Head Start Champions’ Reception. He spoke of his Father’s life-long supporter and advocacy for Head Start and how proud he would be of the program’s achievements and successes over the past 50 years. While Sargent would celebrate these accomplishments through the night, Timothy said, he would waste no time in inviting everyone to sit around the table in the morning to plan how to continue improving Head Start for the next 50!

By Thursday morning, folks were abuzz and so looking forward to making the most of the last and final day of the conference. As I walked around NHSA’s Marketplace and the halls at the Convention Center here in D.C, I really got a sense that conference attendees were energized and ready to move forward.

The Closing Session certainly proved to be everything we had hoped and even more exciting than we’d planned! Each and every speaker had a personal connection to Head Start, making their speeches all the more impactful.

Dr. Edmund Gordon, one of the founders and first Research Director for Head Start succinctly said, “Strong Communities are necessary if you are going to have strong families”.

John King, Senior Adviser to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed the future and asked, “What next? What now? What can we do to make this country better?” King reiterated: “We have an opportunity to take it a step further. We can and must do better on behalf of our children!”  

Olivia Golden, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) said Head Start was founded on the core belief that parents matter. This was such a powerful statement. Golden also charged ahead and advocated that we should always “speak up as it is a part of the history of Head Start.”

And then a very special revelation from Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services who proclaimed…

“I’m a Head Start kid...Thanks to an excellent teacher, Mrs. Pack, I did get a head start. I learned to love learning, and that love has stayed with me my whole life. In fact, when my mom called my Head Start teacher, she said every day I came bounding in the door with the same question: 'What are we going to learn today?'”  

Secretary Burwell also made a surprise announcement in the appointment of Dr. Blanca Enriquez as the new Director of The Office of Head Start (OHS). Dr. Enriquez, Executive Director of the ESC Region 19 Head Start,  then took the stage and gave her first public speech as Director. “We stand proud of our 50 years of successes. We must also be ready to take on challenges”. With this she asked audience members to recommit to Head Start and to it’s future!

What a powerful week this was! Filled to the brim with excitement, attendees are now armed with even more knowledge and encouragement and will return home to continue this meaningful work as educators and Head Start professionals. As everyone involved in Head Start has done for the past 50 years, we will continue to make a difference for each and every child we touch.

We look forward to seeing you at the Head Start Parent Conference, in San Diego this December!  

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