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Navajo Head Start program gets interim leader

Window Rock, Arizona (AP) 9-07

Navajo president Joe Shirley Jr. has appointed a staff assistant in his office to temporarily run the tribe's Head Start program.

Lamont Yazzie, who works in the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, will serve as the program's acting manager until Oct. 4. He will be in charge of administration, including overseeing all grant compliance matters and supervising employees.

The tribe plans to begin searching for a permanent Head Start manager.

Yazzie fills a spot left vacant by Francis Becenti, who resigned as interim director of the program in August. Becenti has said his decision to resign was spurred by his status as a temporary employee, among other things.

Becenti had been hired to help turn around one of the nation's largest American Indian Head Start programs after funding was suspended by federal officials in 2006.

The federal Administration for Children and Families found that local officials had failed to perform background checks on hundreds of Head Start employees. An investigation turned up dozens of employees with criminal records.

The ACF also found wide-ranging threats to children's safety, such as broken, jagged play equipment; dogs and horses being allowed to roam through playgrounds; and broken heaters in classrooms.

Navajo officials worked swiftly to correct the deficiencies, resulting in the almost immediate lifting of the suspension of the Early Head Start program. Months later, federal officials lifted the suspension for the Head Start program, which began reopening centers last October.
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