Much is made regarding the importance of developing a child's mind long before they enter kindergarten. The benefits of quality interaction and instruction are reaped throughout that individual's educational career -- if not their entire life.

As not all parents are up to the challenge, having the local school district committed to the process helps. Packing the staff with outstanding educators helps even more.

Such is the case in the Hays USD 489 system. Its Early Childhood Connections program is dedicated to seamless service from prenatal through age 5.

With a staff of 60 professionals, parents and children are assisted through a variety of tracks including: Early Head Start, Parents As Teachers, Head Start, Kansas Preschool Program and Smart Start Kansas. Almost 600 children are enrolled in Early Childhood Connections.

Overseeing it all is Director Donna Hudson-Hamilton. Acknowledgement of her outstanding guidance recently has come from the Kansas Head Start Association, which named her the administrator of the year. This was followed by being recognized as the Region VII Head Start Association administrator of the year -- and she's one of 12 nominated for the award at the national level.

"That's quite an award," said Hays USD 489 Superintendent Will Roth. "There's a lot of Head Start administrators in that region, and it's good to know Donna's with us."

We would have to agree. Part of the district's reputation for producing quality graduates starts at the very beginning, and USD 489 long has had an emphasis on reaching children long before kindergarten's first bell rings.

Hudson-Hamilton has been with the district since 1992. She started as a psychologist and a Head Start consultant, and was named the director in 2003. Last year, she helped transition the P.A.T.H.S. organization to Early Childhood Connections.

"We wanted the community to realize that we were one program," she said.

The transformation was smooth because of the professionalism of Hudson-Hamilton and her staff.

She, of course, credits the program's success to that staff -- and the collaborative nature of the Hays community.

We know, however, that even the best staff and support of others can't overcome a director with less than 100-percent commitment. The Osborne native and Fort Hays State University graduate has no problem leading by example.

"I really try to look at it as what kind of environment do I want my children in," Hudson-Hamilton said. "How would I want to be treated as a parent. I encourage the staff to look at how they would want people responding to their children, grandchildren. I think that sets up a positive environment."

Indeed it does. And it reflects well not only on USD 489 and the Early Childhood Connections program, but it benefits the entire service area.

Donna Hudson-Hamilton is the consummate education professional. Receiving these honors from peers are well-deserved. We wish her well in the national competition, but already know she's won. The children and parents enrolled in Early Childhood Connections are proof of that. We wish her continued success.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net