Head Start director earns national honors
By JUDY SHERARD
As the Hays USD 489 Early Childhood Connections director, Donna Hudson-Hamilton oversees several programs.
However, she's been involved in the Head Start program since she began at USD 489 in 1992 as a school psychologist and Head Start consultant. She was named Head Start director in 2003.
Hudson-Hamilton has been named the Region VII Head Start Association administrator of the year. She advanced to the regional competition after being named administrator of the year by the Kansas Head Start Association.
"That's quite an award. There's a lot of Head Start administrators in that region, and it's good to know Donna's with us," Hays USD 489 Superintendent Will Roth told the board of education earlier this month.
She will be recognized as the state winner at a luncheon in January, and as the regional winner at a leadership conference in April.
As one of twelve regional winners, Hudson-Hamilton now is in competition for the national award of administrator of the year.
An Osborne native, Hudson-Hamilton graduated from Fort Hays State University. She worked in Russell as a school psychologist for a year before coming to the Hays district.
Head Start is just one piece of the early childhood education program, and the name was changed to Early Childhood Connections in 2011.
"We focus on seamless services for prenatal to (age) 5," Hudson-Hamilton said. "We had been doing it internally for years, but we wanted the community to realize that we were one program."
Services for prenatal to age three include Parents as Teachers Head Start (PATHS) and Hays Head Start for ages three to five, and the four-year-old at risk program, the Kansas preschool program.
"The classrooms are a mixture of all those, and the families receive all the same services in that program."
Funding for the programs comes from grants, some federal like the Head Start program, and some state and local grants.
"I do a lot of grant writing," she said. "USD 489 is our grantee (with) overall responsibility for governing and fiscal management of the program."
As ECC director, Hudson-Hamilton leads a staff of 60.
"I'm proud of the staff. It's through their hard work, I received the award because they work so hard, and do such a great job for the program."
Hudson-Hamilton said she's also proud of the community's collaborative effort for early childhood services.
"We're able to get some additional funds and do some additional things for the children in this community because the early childhood community works together, and we work together well."
Doug Greer, executive director of the Hays Area Children's Center, has worked with Hudson-Hamilton on a number of programs since 1996. He wrote one of the letters recommending her for the award.
"I greatly appreciate her collaborative spirit," he said. "Ellis County is one of the leading collaborative communities, (and) Donna is a big part of that. ... We work together to do what's best for kids."
"We occasionally struggle because we're all struggling with our own issues, but we continue to look at a community as a whole," Hudson-Hamilton said. "With our program we strive to go above and beyond what's required.
She also believes it's important to be active in state organizations, serving as a board member of the Kansas Association of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health. Last year, she was a member of the School Readiness Data Task Force for the Kansas State Department of Education, working on the Kansas early learning framework.
"I try to be active in the state. If you want change, you have to be part of that change. You need to give some of your time and energy to that," she said.
Hudson-Hamilton and her husband Bart Hamilton live in Stockton with their two daughters, Haven, 12, a seventh-grader, and Tatum, 10, a fifth-grader.
Like the parents she works with, Hudson-Hamilton is active in the USD 271 parent teacher organization, is a 4-H leader and helps with her daughters' recreational sports teams.
"I really try to look at it as what kind of environment do I want my children in," she 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."