TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner this week unveiled architectural renderings for the Cherokee Nation’s planned Head Start facilities as part of Head Start Awareness Month in October.

Construction of the two new Cherokee Nation Head Start facilities is a part of the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act signed into law by Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner with support from the Council of the Cherokee Nation in 2021. The Act dedicates a historic $40 million to help replace or rehabilitate Cherokee Nation Head Start centers across the tribe’s reservation, with construction planned for Tahlequah, Nowata, Kenwood, Jay, Cherry Tree in Adair County, and, Salina.

“As part of our historic and aggressive plan to help our youngest learners and their caregivers, we are excited to take another important step toward construction of new Head Start facilities, beginning with Tahlequah and Nowata,” Chief Hoskin said. “Native-owned Blue River Architects has worked closely with the Cherokee Nation to develop architectural renderings for these future sites. Our early childhood education program is already full of the best staff around teaching a first-class curriculum, and the programming is regarded as among the best in the country. These beautiful new facilities, depicted in these preliminary designs, will finally give our amazing Head Start program the first-class facilities they need to run a modern early childhood learning center.”

The two-story Tahlequah site will be approximately 75,000 square feet and designed to replace the existing Head Start center on adjacent property. The new building will have 17 classrooms and four motor-skills rooms, two of which will also serve as storm shelters. Included in the design are offices for staff, nurse’s rooms, conference rooms, and a training room. Construction on the Tahlequah facility is expected to begin in mid-2023.

The Nowata facility will be 9,500 square feet with two early Head Start classrooms, a motor-skills room, office space and other areas for staff and storage. The Nowata Head Start will move from its existing location at Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation’s Wauhilla Court apartments to a new location across from the Will Rogers Health Center. Construction at Nowata is expected to begin by early 2023.

The Head Start in Kenwood will be replaced as part of the construction of the $10 million Woody Hair Community Center. The Woody Hair Community Center will feature the Head Start, a gymnasium and wellness space and office space for One Fire Association, the local Cherokee community organization. The facility will be part of a newly refurbished park, featuring new ballfields and a playground. Construction for the Woody Hair Community Center is scheduled to begin in late 2022.

The remaining Head Start facilities at Jay, Cherry Tree and Salina will be modeled after the plans for Nowata, with some variation in the square footage of each facility.

The Cherry Tree facility will combine the existing Cherry Tree and Redbird facilities in Adair County with plans to locate the new Cherry Tree Head Start south of Stilwell on Highway 59.

Planning remains underway for the Jay and Salina Head Starts with potential locations of those facilities still under review.

“When Chief Hoskin and I first discussed the need for modernizing our Head Start facilities across the reservation, we knew we couldn’t stop with the replacement or rehab of our existing Head Start facilities. Another major component of our early childhood education initiative is a comprehensive review of all early childhood education services for Cherokee citizens,” said Deputy Chief Warner. “Chief Hoskin and I expect to soon receive the first report from our Early Childhood Education Task Force, which has been working diligently on an in-depth evaluation of childcare needs that exist inside the reservation. This review is critical to helping us identify any problems we may need to fix, and all of the great successes we can expand on.”

  • Cherokee Nation unveils architectural renderings of new Head Start buildings

    Architectural rendering of the future Nowata Head Start facility.

The Early Childhood Education Task Force expects to issue its report to Chief Hoskin in November. The report will evaluate various aspects of childcare needs across the reservation, including how the tribe’s Head Start and Child Development Centers can be expanded to better serve Cherokee families. The final report will be made available to the Council and for public review.

Cherokee Nation currently serves approximately 900 children through its Head Start programs, which were first started in 1978.

“I am proud to be an alumnus of the Cherokee Nation Head Start program. I remember my Head Start days quite well at the Redbird site in Stilwell,” said Chief of Staff Corey Bunch. “My mother was a single parent, so for me to be able to attend was essential to our household’s survival and I got the benefit of getting my first educational experience at an early age. I distinctly remember being loved and cared for every day, all while learning life skills. I remember the reading circle times and making great friends. It was something I looked forward to at that age, and now it is something that I have great memories of. Supporting Cherokee Nation Head Start today is a great honor to me because they gave me the foundation and jump start that I needed. I may not have had the career success that I’ve been blessed with if I would not have had that experience. Today our Head Start program and its dedicated employees continue to offer the high-level quality of teaching, love and care that I received over 40 years ago, so supporting them will continue to be a high priority to me.”

Cherokee Nation’s Head Start students range from as young as six weeks to preschool age. They are taught cognitive, language, motor and social skills as part of the tribe’s Head Start programs.

“Education leads to better living. In this world, there are many things competing with education. The earlier we can start educating children, getting a head start on their education and jumping ahead of the negative competitors, the sooner our children can reach the finish line of success,” said District 8 Councilor Shawn Crittenden, chair of the Council of the Cherokee Nation’s education committee. “This is another area where our administration should be applauded for applying good, sustainable focus and resources.”

Across the country, federal Head Start programs provide comprehensive services to more than 1 million children each year.

The Cherokee Nation Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act is named in honor of Head Start Director Verna Thompson, who has worked for the Cherokee Nation and in early childhood education for nearly 40 years.