UCLA Head Start Management Fellows Program Is a 12-Day Intensive

UCLA Head Start Management Fellows Program Is a 12-Day Intensive


The Price Center provides leadership development training for Head Start directors

July 27, 2023

The 2023 UCLA Head Start Management Fellows

They come to UCLA from Springfield, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Silicon Valley and southwestern Wyoming. They serve children — from the inner city to rural areas to coastal communities — whose families are impoverished, uninsured or living in food deserts.

They are directors of the nation’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which are administered within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Many of them begin their careers as educators and advance to executive administrative roles. They come to Anderson for the UCLA Head Start Management Fellows Program, which provides Head Start executives the opportunity to participate in a 12-day intensive leadership and management development training session. Some fellows, like a Head Start director from the Jicarilla Apache nation on the Laguna Pueblo in northern New Mexico, are the first representatives from their region to complete the Price Center’s training.

Since 1991, the program has trained more than 1,700 Head Start directors and managers who provide comprehensive services to nearly 1 million economically disadvantaged children and their families each day — services that have persevered during the pandemic. It has been funded by the National Center on Program Management and Fiscal Operations, Office of Head Start, Administration for Children and Families since 2015. Prior to that, it was funded by Johnson & Johnson.

Why locate such training at a business school?

Designed from a strategic planning perspective, the program is administered by Anderson’s Price Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, where Senior Associate Dean Al Osborne and colleagues created several leadership and management training programs. Osborne, now a professor emeritus, understood that approaching any problem like a business could help solve it. “Early childhood education professionals face management and strategic challenges in an increasingly changing environment,” he says. “By developing an entrepreneurial mindset and competence, our participants are able to achieve and exceed their goals of raising families out of poverty, and preparing children to be healthy and ready for school and life.”

Osborne continues as the program’s faculty director. He teaches strategy and evaluates fellows’ final presentations. He can be seen wearing a T-shirt that reads: “No Goals, No Glory” — a gift sent to him by a Head Start director.

“Head Start is experiencing the same challenges as most other industries. The tight labor market has made it extremely difficult to keep classrooms open. The mental health and well-being of staff are also a major concern for leadership.”

— Jeanette Boom, Director, Management Development Programs, Price Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

The program’s impetus was to train Head Start executives to approach their organizations and leadership roles with a businesslike, entrepreneurial spirit. Osborne reminds the fellows that, as Head Start directors, they are all already leaders of multimillion dollar corporations.

The inaugural 1991 class included Helen H. Taylor, associate commissioner of the Head Start Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth and Families. Under her leadership, Head Start enrollment increased by 145,000. One of Taylor’s classmates was activist and Head Start superstar Ron Herndon, longtime director of Albina Head Start in Portland, Oregon, and former National Head Start Association board chair. “If you did the cost-benefit analysis of the Fellows Program,” Herndon commented in 2016, “you’d find billions of dollars of impact in innovation and services. That’s why I continue to recommend people into the program.”

Anderson’s 2023 cohort consisted of 41 Head Start directors and managers. Myrna Rodriguez, one of this year’s fellows, became a Head Start director in early 2022. She is child development and family services division director for the Agricultural and Labor Program in Florida’s St. Lucie, Martin and Polk counties. She majored in business administration and has a total of 29 years of experience in Head Start, including in management roles. She says Head Start programs are facing more and more competition from other organizations offering early childhood development services. She enrolled in the Price Center’s program because she “wanted to gain insights from various viewpoints, tactics and innovations to maintain a competitive edge.”

Rodriguez came to UCLA with the goal of augmenting her knowledge of strategic planning, data analysis, marketing strategies and other skills to inform how she meets business challenges. “Developing innovative strategies will undoubtedly bolster our business management and allow us to make well-informed investment decisions for our early childhood education program,” she says. “With the knowledge we gain from the UCLA Anderson program, I’m confident we will continue to lead with our expertise, stay ahead of the competition and maintain our exceptional standards.” Rodriguez says the first thing on her post-training list is to revise her organization’s Head Start mission statement and marketing tools.

Quentin Rinker, the Early Head Start director at Evanston Child Development Center in Evanston, Wyoming, says his career was influenced by his mother, who worked as a Head Start family visitor when he was a child. He earned his B.A. in elementary education at Arizona State University and worked as a teacher and, later, as an ESL teacher. “I purposely chose inner-city schools where I could have the most impact,” says Rinker, also a 2023 fellow. After a decade of teaching, he shifted his focus to serving families. “I found the opportunity at a local Early Head Start program needing a family advocate. I began my Head Start career with the agency and, within one year, I became the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership director. Eight years later, I believe I am in the right place, and I look forward to a long career with the Head Start/Early Head Start family.”

Evanston Child Development Center is located in a rural area of one of the nation’s least populated states. Rinker says the particular challenges his team faces include deficient access to services for families with young children. “Wyoming is considered an early childhood desert or wilderness. Our Early Head Start-CCP program survives on the federal funding provided and on our internal ingenuity and perseverance.”

The business problem he enrolled in the UCLA Anderson program to solve entailed meeting the challenges of obtaining better access to mental health, implementing an effective behavior management system and establishing a sustainable budget plan that provides a livable wage and benefit package for Head Start staff.

“I intend to dive into my leadership ‘soft skills’ and persuasion techniques to become a better communicator,” says Rinker. “These skills will be important when I utilize the Management Improvement Plan format for strategic planning buy-in among stakeholders.”

“With the knowledge we gain from the UCLA Anderson program, we will continue to lead with our expertise, stay ahead of the competition and maintain our exceptional standards.”

— Myrna Rodriguez, Director, Child Development and Family Services Division, The Agricultural and Labor Program, Florida

The Management Improvement Plan (MIP) is the practical application or experiential component of the program. It equips participants to immediately translate the UCLA program curriculum to improve performance at their own organizations. It identifies and addresses an organizational weakness or external opportunity through the development of a strategic plan for tackling an issue.

The FY 22 funding for Head Start programs was $10,748,095,000. There are more than 17,000 Head Start Center nationwide and well over a quarter of a million staff. Still, says Price Center program director Jeanette Boom, “Head Start is experiencing the same challenges as most other industries, mainly in staffing. The tight labor market has made it extremely difficult to keep classrooms open. Compensation of early childhood educators has never been high, and with many school districts now offering pre-K programs, many Head Start staff are leaving for higher pay and better benefits. Universal Prekindergarten in some states is also impacting enrollment, with many programs converting their Head Start slots to Early Head Start to meet more of their communities’ needs. The mental health and well-being of staff are also a major concern for leadership.”

“If the Head Start community is going to continue to do what we have always done, which is promote teachers to directors, then the fellows program is essential to the success of Head Start,” says 2019 fellow Traci Ross, executive director of LEAP Services in Washington County, New York. As it happens, Ross was mentored by Mernell King, a seasoned Head Start and Community Action professional and 2000 program alumna, and founder of Green Light Training. King has co-authored research with UCLA Anderson’s Ariella Herman, who founded the Price Center’s UCLA/Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute in 2001. Herman says, “We believe that school readiness begins with health. When the kids are healthy, they are in school, they are learning more and are more productive.”

Like Osborne, Herman delivers lectures on data analysis and root cause analysis, as well as organizational and staff wellness. She tells the fellows as they present their MIPs, “Your voices have definitely risen in the last 12 days. The headache I gave you seemed to pay off today.”

I intend to dive into my leadership ‘soft skills’ and persuasion techniques to become a better communicator.”

— Quentin Rinker, Director, Early Head Start, Evanston Child Development Center, Wyoming

“The program also provides opportunities for Anderson MBA students to serve as strategic consultants to the participants, advising them as they develop their Management Improvement Plans for their organizations,” says Boom, who notes that many students have served more than one cohort. “The experience reinforces what they’ve learned in the classroom and helps them further develop their coaching and mentoring skills. To date, 141 Anderson MBA students have been part of the program since 1991. Many of them work in nonprofit, health care or early education.”

In its maturity, the UCLA Head Start Fellows Program has launched new initiatives and secured new funding. Price Center executive director Elaine Hagan predicts great things to come for the 33-year-old program, saying, “Individuals are helped in ways that effects a ripple out to improve entire communities” — which sums up the service mission of the No. 1 public university in the U.S.