Prepare for Launch: Head Start energizes staff in annual Back-to-School Rally

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August 4, 2022 by HCDE Communications

On Monday, Harris County Department of Education Early Head Start and Head Start employees received program updates, special recognitions, and uplifting messages during the annual Head Start Back-to-School Rally, featuring a space theme entitled “Back to Basics: Heading into the Future.”

“It’s about ensuring we have all of our students’ and staff’s basic needs covered while shooting for excellence,” said Senior Director Venetia Peacock. “We’re getting back to trying to be the best we can be.”

Head Start Senior Director Venetia Peacock welcomes staff Back-to-School Rally, August 1, 2022.

Central office and campus staff—including cooks, custodians, teachers, teaching assistants, managers, family service providers, and nutritional staff—energized through fellowship, games, and good news as they readied for the school year ahead. The annual celebration helps build the relationships between employees and their managers and strengthens the program at all levels.

“The purpose of today is to have fun and share information. It’s important for our employees to know we value them,” said Peacock. “There is a going to be a big focus on the mental health of staff, bringing up the enthusiasm, and looking for ways to mitigate some of the challenges we face. We’re focused on making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.”

Head Start leaders shared updates on several new and ongoing initiatives during the rally. The announcements included a new survey-based employee wellness initiative and an employee-led wellness committee, a plan to re-integrate parent volunteers and SuperMENtors on campuses, and a new partnership with Texas State University (TXST) social work student interns.

The TXST partnership will mirror a similar arrangement through which University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston dietitian students offer their knowledge and receive job experience.

“For us, the bottom line is creating more capacity to serve students and families,” said Gulshan Rahman, assistant director of compliance and family services. “It’s a two-way street. The social work interns will get some case management experience as students and learn about working with families, assessing needs, giving referrals, and understanding what resources are important for families.”

Head Start Assiatnt Director Gulshan Rahman delivers updates at Back-to-School Rally, August 1, 2022.

Rahman also announced the integration of a new nutrition services software that will roll out later this year. Mosaic, a web-based food service management program offered by Heartland School Solutions, is specifically designed for ease of use in school nutrition operations.

Nutrition Services Coordinator Monica Niles is optimistic about the potential of the software.

Monica Niles passes out employee surveys during Back-to-School Rally, August 1, 2022.

“Right now, inflation with food and produce is ever-changing, and we want to make sure we’re ordering responsibly,” said Niles. “Mosaic is designed to capture inventory, recipe compliance, and the meal planning components needed for special diets like macro and micronutrients. The way it’s designed is that if you do that work on the back end, it generates production reports for you. This will help us from a financial management standpoint.”

Though she enjoyed hearing the division updates, Niles’ favorite part of the day was “letting loose.”

“Getting outside the regular office, seeing people, and mingling is really nice,” she said.

To add a special touch to the annual school year kickoff, campus managers had the opportunity to recognize one outstanding employee who went above and beyond on their campuses, which is a spin on Head Start administration’s annual staff recognition.

“My favorite part of today was seeing campus managers recognize their own staff, hands down. I hope we continue doing that because I think it was well received,” said Rahman. “I think people are so surprised that they’re valued and to hear someone talk about them that way. I mean, you saw how many of them were in tears.”

Following the rally, Head Start staff spent the week hosting parent orientations and preparing for students to arrive for the first day of school on Monday, August 8.

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