Ed Zigler: Founder of Head Start and Kansas City native dies

Ed Zigler, the founder of Head Start and a champion of early childhood education, died recently.

Zigler grew up in Kansas City and was a product of the Kansas City Public School District, attending Woodland Elementary and Manual Tech.

Watch President Lyndon B. Johnson introduce Project Head Start on May 18, 1965. In his speech from the White House Rose Garden, Johnson described Head Start as "one of the most exciting programs that this Nation has ever undertaken."

His early Kansas City childhood experiences included involvement with a “settlement house” where his family learned English and received health services and other needs. Based on that experience, Zigler considered himself “an original Head Starter.”

Head Start has served over 35 million children and their families. Here’s the 1965 announcement by President Lyndon Johnson about the creation of Head Start.

The Kansas City community recognized Zigler in 2003 when he returned to Kansas City and visited Woodland Elementary. On that occasion, several community leaders shared the profound influence Zigler had on the work on early education in the Kansas City area.

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Zigler advanced the idea of Head Start as part of the Great Society programs developed during the Johnson administration. Zigler went on to serve the Nixon administration.

Zigler had a distinguished academic career at Yale University and was a prolific researcher and author. There he developed the Schools of the 21st Century which incorporated his concerns about educating the “whole child.”

The Independence School District was one of the early school districts to adopt the approach under the leadership of then Superintendent Bob Henley.

During Zigler’s 2003 visit to Kansas City, LINC produced a video interviewing his sister and others who were deeply influenced and shaped by the work and their personal interactions with Zigler.

Here’s a full obituary from the Washington Post. Zigler was 88 years old.

In a 1987 interview with The Post, Zigler commented: “I want a solution that’s going to last for the next 100 years and provide quality day care for everyone. We have to open schools earlier in the morning, keep them open later in the afternoon and during summer.”

The LINC Caring Communities initiative provides affordable, accessible before- and after-school care in 45 schools in the Kansas City, Hickman Mills, Center, Grandview, and North Kansas school districts and one charter. It has partnerships in the Independence and Fort Osage school districts.

Woodland Elementary, which Zigler attended, was closed for several years before reopening as a Head Start center for the Kansas City Public Schools.

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