DANBURY -- An American flag that once waved over the Capitol in Washington, D.C., hung on a new pole at the Head Start center on Foster Street on Monday.
It was a reward, in a way.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn, unfurled the flag against a backdrop of children at play during an announcement Monday that Head Start of Northern Fairfield County had aced its recent federal review.
The federal preschool program for low-income clients serves 32 children from infants to 2-years-olds and 335 who are age 3 and 4, mainly from Danbury, but also from Bethel, Brookfield, Newtown, New Fairfield, Redding, Ridgefield and Sherman.
This is the second time the Danbury program has received a perfect score on its triennial review, though under much more challenging circumstances, saidJames Maloney, president of Connecticut Institute for Communities, which oversees the federal grant program.
Not only did the staff face the threats of cuts to federal, state and local funds, but the program moved from public school classrooms into a standalone facility last July with the majority of staff being new.
From March 30 to April 3, a team of eight federal monitors looked into the program, run by Monica Bevilacqua.
"Every three years, a team of eight comes to review everything from soup to nuts," Maloney said. "They spend days in each classroom, look at the health program, enrollment procedures, record keeping and family advocacy.
"To duplicate the marvelous scores for two cycles in a row is not impossible, but it is rare."
Head Start serves 267 3- and 4-year olds at its Foster Street center and 40 at the Laurel Gardens housing complex on Main Street. Of those, 40 are funded by a separate state program.
In addition, the Early Head Start program at Foster Street received a perfect score in its first year of a triennial review.
Esty, a supporter of early childhood initiatives in Washington, told the two dozen guests on hand Monday the program needs a team with good leadership so it can empower, support and equip children to succeed.
"It comes not just from instruction, but from the heart. It has to be modeled by great leaders," Esty said. "Two perfect scores is an extraordinary achievement.
"We know that school readiness programs work, and the best ones work extraordinarily well. They are effective in reducing the achievement gap, which in Connecticut is among the highest in the country," she said.
Esty said every dollar spent on preschool saves $9 later in extra academic help, prison or other costs.
"It's one of the best investments we can make, financially as well as morally," she said.
According to the report, Danbury's program scored nearly 6.1 on emotional support, compared the national average of under 6.
It scored nearly 6.2 on classroom support, compared to the national average of 5.6, and scored 3 on instructional support, compared to the national average of 2.7.
In addition, the local program out-scored national averages on teacher sensitivity, regard for student perspective, behavior management, productivity, instructional format, concept development, quality of feedback and language modeling.
"In every case, the scores were higher or substantially higher than the national average," Maloney said. "I think we can do better, since three-quarters of our staff only had six months of training."
Tom Saadi, a member of the Danbury City Council, was on hand with other council and city Board of Education members for the announcement.
"I've been a strong supporter of Head Start," Saadi said. "I know early childhood education is key to future success. I see it in my two kids.
"I'm very impressed by the perfect scores, but not just that, by what they do beyond the grading."