By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
In May, Laura Cano will receive an award for making contributions in creating community partnerships to serve preschool children and their families and for work in sharing her experiences with other communities.
The director of federal programs for USD No. 480 is among three recipients of the 2010 State Children’s Champions award from the Kansas Head Start Association.
Cano said the award, presented by the Region VII Head Start Association, representing Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, is given to people who are working diligently to improve the education of pre-school children.
Cano, along with fellow recipients Jim McDaniel and Robert Morton, are part of the Demonstration Learning Communities grant that Head Start awarded their communities.
She said with all the work the trio has been doing with collaborating with a different agency in towns providing pre-school services, Kansas Head Start recognized that work and how valuable it is for children.
“I’m really excited they chose to give us this award,” she said.
Cano said the award is not just an individual award, but rather one for a team effort.
“It’s an award for all the people that work with the grant – all of the pre-school teachers, the administration at Washington (Elementary), Diane Hensley, who does a lot of work with the grant,” she said.
Cano said Hensley organizes all of the grant meetings, and she likewise handles paperwork for those meetings. The federal programs director also credited USD 480 Special Education Director Vicki Adams, who she said provides much in the way of information in that area.
“It’s a team effort,” Cano said. “It’s definitely not something that I will even take credit for by myself. I want to recognize it’s a whole team of people working together. Head Start is very important – Eric Pommier and July Wright. Those people are invaluable to the project.”
Cano, McDaniel and Morton will be recognized at the Region VII conference May 25-27 in Kansas City. She emphasized the award is not just for Kansas, but also Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.
“We’re really pretty fortunate that even those other states when they heard what we were doing, they decided that our project was worthy of the award,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
Cano said up until last year, Head Start and USD 480 operated as separate entities, with both providing services to pre-school children.
“When we started working on the Demonstration Learning Communities project, we began to talk to each other and discuss things like, ‘What are you doing in your program, and how could we help you?’ on both ends,” she said. “How can we help you? How can we help each other to provide the best quality service to the most children in Liberal?”
Cano said with the connections between Head Start and USD 480, strong bonds have been formed, and the two entities have been doing a lot of collaboration.
“We’re hoping to keep moving forward so that maybe eventually we have classrooms that have USD 480 children and Head Start children together,” she said. “We’re looking at things like that.”
Cano said the two groups are currently focusing on a joint application for pre-school services.
“When a parent is looking for a pre-school service, they can go either to Head Start or our offices, pick up an application, and it’s the same application for both programs,” she said. “That way, parents aren’t running around all over town trying to get into a program.”
Cano said in this way, parents can go to either USD 480 or Head Start, and their children will be considered for all programs, no matter which entity that might be.
“The one that best meets the needs of their kid, that’s where they’ll be placed,” she said.
Past Kansas champions have included former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Pat Roberts, and when Cano found out she was a recipient, she was surprised given that fact.
“That’s very humbling and very surprising because all we’re doing is working to make our education system better,” she said. “I’ll never think that I’m doing it for recognition or anything like that, but when you’re recognized for hard work, it lets people know that you’re work is important, and you keep going.”