Contributed by Paul Andrews, Superintendent of HDESD
About twenty years ago, three early childhood leaders in Central Oregon got together to brainstorm how to ensure more children entered Kindergarten ready to learn. Specifically, they wanted to tackle the problem that many children have never been screened for vision, hearing, behavioral and other issues that could have been dealt with at a younger age, facilitating a better learning experience. The outcome of their work was the creation of Healthy Beginnings, a program of the High Desert Education Service District (at that time, called Crook Deschutes ESD).
They decided that they should ‘go big’ and have Healthy Beginnings screen children ages birth to five for different potential areas of concern covering dental health, vision, hearing, concepts, behavior, speech, motor, social and emotional areas if a child’s development. They had one strong stipulation, and that was that screenings should be free and available to everyone. That was quite a goal with no stable funding, no staff, and only volunteer screeners.
One of the ways that Healthy Beginnings has been successful all of these years is due to the unique relationship it has with High Desert ESD. Soon after it began, Healthy Beginnings applied to become a non-profit 501c3 entity with its own board. Simultaneously, Healthy Beginnings also continued its relationship with HDESD – all of HB’s staff are actually ESD employees (with the benefits that a public entity can provide including Public Employee Retirement System or PERS, well-funded health insurance).
HDESD also provides business office, HR, technology, and mentoring support for HB. HDESD and the board of HB entered into a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines the roles of the board and the roles of the ESD. This has allowed Healthy Beginnings to continue to provide outstanding services to children and families, hire high-quality staff, and receive the support and infrastructure of a large public service district. Has proven to be a win-win relationship.