By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Hard work and dedication are the principles Kathryn L. McCartney lives by daily. McCartney, who has spent her entire career working around the early childhood community, has risen up the ranks to become the new chief executive officer of Head Start of Greater Dallas Inc., a nonprofit organization that serves 2,500 low-income preschool age children, infants and toddlers throughout 44 full-day Head Start and Early Head Start centers in Dallas County.
Previously, McCartney served as the organization’s chief operations officer for over seven years and has been with the organization for 20 years.
The organization provides children with the foundation of skills and knowledge they need to be successful in school and life and fosters self-reliant families and communities, according to Head Start’s mission statement.
“We are focusing on making lives better for our children and their families and that has been the mission of Head Start nationwide since its inception in the 1950s during the Johnson administration,” McCartney said. “What we found was that you can work with the children, but you cannot succeed unless you have the family. You have to have the family involved in all aspects because the children and families are very important to their success. So, we continue to have strong family engagement, parent engagement as well as focusing and ensuring that our children are developmentally ready for the next level which would be in our case, kindergarten.”
McCartney has a degree in social work from Texas Woman’s University and also earned an online degree from the University of Illinois.
“I always wanted to be a social worker,” she said. “My first job was working as a social worker in a childcare facility. From there, I started working with the parents, especially working with the children. I decided to go back and get a master’s in early childhood development education. Then, I became a preschool teacher and that was very rewarding, and I think I started in the pre-k element for many years. After working in the classroom for over 10 years, I decided to venture out into management and became a manager of a center of a childcare facility working with family day home providers.”
McCartney, who grew up in Dallas, credits her parents and family for instilling in her strong work ethics.
“We had a pretty normal childhood growing up,” she said. “I have a sister and brother. My mother and father were both in our homes. And I think that they instilled in us values that we kind of carry on to this day such as hard work, looking out for each other and that was basically the message that they gave us. I think that we had normal hurdles during junior high and high school, and it was always a challenge for our neighborhood that we grew up in. We did go to a community elementary school through high school that they were always in our neighborhood never outside of our neighborhood.
“So, we really got a picture of our neighborhood and not with how other people are living. We got the message that we were living okay. We thought that even though we lived in a poor neighborhood we just didn’t know it at the time because we kind of stayed amongst ourselves. So, we were able to form friendships and relationships that lasted for our lifetime.”
McCartney said she tackled the hurdles through hard work and has advice for the youth.
“I think through hard work and determination,” she said. “You have to have determination if you want to get out of a situation to get better. And set yourself some goals and possibly a deadline and your determination kind of determines whether you reach those goals or deadlines. You have to feel good about yourself. You have to be able to say that I am just as good as everybody else. I can do this if I put my mind to it and never give up if you fail. It is okay to fail. It’s not about failing but how you handle your failures and where you go from there.”
McCartney hopes to focus on community involvement as the new leader of Head Start of Greater Dallas.
“We are focusing on continuing our partnership with the community. I think that is very important. We can’t do it alone. It takes a community in order to help a family,” she stated.
McCartney said she loves working with children.
“I found them fascinating,” she said. “They are at all levels and ages are fascinating to me. Just to be able to see the young minds filled with knowledge and them asking questions and growing up and interacting with their friends and their teachers. It’s just an ideal situation they can flourish in the classroom environment, especially when they are stimulated and they have lots of hands on experiences, it just brings out all those inquisitive traits that we like to see in our children. I also find infants and toddlers very fascinating as well. It is always very rewarding and soothing to go and pick up an infant and be able to interact with them. All ages are fascinating to me.”
McCartney said Head Start has taken precautionary measures to deal with COVID-19.
“For the first 3 months, we were closed and with the mandate, we started a summer school program for our children that were going to be transitioning into kindergarten and that was like a six week program and we started that at the end of May and finished up in early July. We had parents that had signed up and changed their minds. We had a few children in the summer and that worked out quite well.
“We practiced all the social distancing, followed the health departments advice and CDC guidelines, which included a lot of preventative things like frequent handwashing, social distancing, sanitizing all the equipment, taking temperature, having parents drop children off at the door, took the parents temperature, took the child’s temperature. So, we had a pretty good success story with the summer. We said that the summer was going to give us practice for the fall on what we have to do to ensure the safety of children, staff and family.”
Though most schools may not be open for in-person classes for a while, she went on to share advice for parents to help keep their child safe from COVID-19.
“Parents can teach their child basic things like social distancing, don’t get too close to your friends, and talking about handwashing is very important,” she insisted. “Face masks – that’s going to be one of our major issues – helping the children understand the importance of keeping the face masks on.
“The important thing is handwashing and listening to the teacher and being considerate to your classmates and staying out of their space. Those are the things we ask parents to work with their children on. Also, if your child is running a temperature you don’t bring them to school. Children are required to wear face masks at the school if they are in the presence of other children. The staff is also required to wear face masks.”
McCartney has this advice for high school students to make it today in this world.
“Hard work,” she said. “I have to keep repeating hard work because it is not easy but think about the hard work, think about the end, how it is going to look, how it is going to look with your goals accomplished and just focus on that and that will get you through the end and never give up.”