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NMSU College of Education names new Head Start director

The New Mexico State University College of Education has selected Amanda Gibson-Smith as the director of the Dona Ana County Head Start Program, which is locally administered by the university.

Amanda Gibson-Smith has been selected as the director of the Dona Ana County Head Start Program, which is locally administered by the New Mexico State University College of Education. (NMSU photo by Ben La Marca)

-Smith brings to the position ample professional training, valuable experience and a strong work ethic," Robert Moulton, dean of the College of Education, said in his announcement. "I am confident that, under her leadership, the history of excellence in Head Start services will continue."

Dona Ana County Head Start is a federally funded, comprehensive preschool program with nine centers in Mesilla, Anthony, Vado, Las Cruces and on the NMSU campus. The program, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children, Youth and Families, serves children and families of limited income as well as children with disabilities, between the ages of 3 and 5.

Gibson-Smith, who has served as the interim director since February, said her biggest goal moving forward will be to ensure that the Head Start program continues to serve its 258 children at a high quality level and that the staff is rewarded for its efforts.

"Early childhood is so critical and our affiliation with the university's College of Education gives us a strong foundation to build programs for the children of Dona Ana County," Gibson-Smith said.

She said the Head Start program will be facing challenges as federally funded programs of this nature continue to see budget cuts, but she said she plans to work with her staff and the College of Education to do the best she can for the families enrolled in the program.

"I would like to leave a legacy of commitment to the children, families and employees of this program," she said. "I am honored to have been selected as the director."

Gibson-Smith has a bachelor's degree in agricultural business and business management and a master's degree in public administration, both from NMSU.

In addition to providing educational services to children and families, Dona Ana County Head Start provides nutritional, medical, dental, mental health, parent involvement, transition and disability services to participating families.

Initiated in 1984, the program operates four days a week from mid-August to mid-May. More than 10 percent of the children are identified as having a developmental delay disability based on the state diagnostic criteria.

The goal of the Head Start program nationwide, which started in 1965, is to bring about a greater degree of social competence in children of low-income families. The program approach is based on the philosophy that a child can benefit most from a comprehensive development program and that a child's entire family and the community must be involved.

In October, Dona Ana County Head Start will join Head Start programs throughout the nation to celebrate Head Start Awareness Month.

"We will use this time to let our parents know that by enrolling their children in our Head Start program that they have made a difference in the lives of their children," Gibson-Smith said.

For more information call about the Dona Ana County Head Start Program, call (505) 647-8733.