LIFT PASSES REVIEW
By Monique Harrison
LIFT Inc., the community-action agency charged with operating the area Head Start program, reportedly received a clean bill of health Friday, following a four-day review by the Atlanta office of the federal Administration for Children and Families.
“We were told this morning that we are in the clear,” said LIFT Executive Director Randy Collums, who is responsible for overseeing the federally funded program designed to prepare at-risk preschoolers for kindergarten. “We spent the last year working to rectify those deficiencies, and it paid off.”
In May of 1995, a report filed by the agency found LIFT to be guilty of a number of violations.
Under new congressional guidelines, Head Start programs are audited every three years. However, because LIFT received a negative evaluation in 1995, it was evaluated again this week.
After the 1995 report, LIFT was required to write an extensive improvement plan, discussing how to address problems, most of which were in the area of management and programming.
“We’ve been putting systems in place to be sure there is a more orderly flow of the program – following of policies and procedures,” Collums said.
Had LIFT failed to meet the demands of the six-member review board that visited classrooms and talked to employees, its status as overseer of Head Start could have been yanked.
If another overseer were not found, the 37 classrooms in Lee, Monroe and Pontotoc counties that serve the 649 Head Start students would have been closed.
“It was something we took very seriously,” Collums said. “We knew the consequences.”
The Lee County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held a meeting Thursday to air concerns about the performance of LIFT.
At the meeting, a number of current and former employees of LIFT discussed what they see as problems with the program. Several employees said they believed their demotions or terminations were racially motivated.
Collums said about three employees have been fired in the past two years.
Several others, including former Head Start director Martha Black, resigned. Black had been with the program since it was launched nationwide 30 years ago. Since her resignation, Collums has been acting as director. He said he hopes to fill the position by July.
At Thursday’s meeting, several former employees said they resigned because they felt an excessive amount of stress and pressure was being placed on them.
At least two and possibly three former employees have grievances currently pending with LIFT, Collums said. The nonprofit agency has an established appeals process for anyone who feels they have been treated unfairly.