Breaking New Ground with Betsy Rathbun Gunn of Bennington County Head Start

Breaking ground on the new Head Start facility in downtown Bennington.

One of the definitions of the word ‘partner’ is one who shares.  The word takes on a depth of meanings and added strength in the context of the early childhood profession.  Partnership is about action; it is the way that we do our work in the Bennington region- by sharing strengths and resources while assisting each other in meeting the needs of the children and families in our region.

There are many people who work together to ensure that our children have the best start.  We share resources and skills to ensure that the children in this region are:

  • Healthy
  • Learning
  • Supported by their families and communities

It is a journey that not one family, person, agency or institution can embark upon alone.  One of the partners in this work is the Bennington County Head Start, directed by Betsy Rathbun Gunn.  They have proven that they are collaborators with children, parents, staff, other early childhood professionals, and our local communities.

Head Start is an active part of the community.  They sit on the BBF-Early Childhood Council and other committees such as the professional development committee, Starting Points, and Health and Wellness to share ideas and resources.  As a collaborative partner, Head Start is part of the shared vision for children and families in Bennington County.

Head Start has a strong standard of developing employee’s strengths and supporting their growth in the field.  In the past, they have identified committed, promising individuals and promoted them from a parent volunteer, to a cook, to a classroom aide, to an assistant teacher, and to teacher.  They have supported them in gaining the necessary credentials and degrees.  Head Start has supported community members in learning to tell their stories.  As a large childcare provider, they are able to have a clear path for continued development as employees gain skills and experiences both professionally and personally.

Betsy Rathbun Gunn has been the director of Head Start for the past 15 years. She returned to Head Start after taking time off to follow her dream of running a Vermont inn while completing her Masters in Educational Leadership from State University of New York Albany.  She also has her Bachelors in Early Childhood from Bennington College and is married with two grown sons.

Betsy shares her energy and her leadership with members of the Head Start staff and our community.  She has been involved both at the national and state level for Head Start. Betsy served on the Building Bright Futures State Advisory Committee ending her term as the Co-Chair in 2018.

Under Betsy’s leadership, Head Start has grown the number of children that it serves and the number of facilities they operate.  Head Start has campuses in Manchester, North Bennington and Pownal.  The biggest facility is in North Bennington. Bennington County Head Start expanded 2 ½ years ago after receiving an Early Head Start grant.  They are now able to serve 48 children under the age of three.  These slots are in addition to the 121 pre-school slots.  Head Start collaborates with other high quality childcare centers to provide services to children and families.  They are a Universal Pre-K partner with the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

The development of an agency culture is led and supported by the organization’s director.  Bennington County Head Start reflects Betsy’s energy and passions.  She has mile-a-minute ideas that are both possible and exciting. She is always interested in trying new things and avenues to help professionalize the early education field.  Betsy brings the rest of us along with her sharing of the leadership.  She describes herself as learning but impatient.

Betsy says that continued learning is the essence of her life and her beliefs.  As a manager, she always is there with her door open.  Betsy attended the leadership Institute at UCLA.  She is making sure that her management staff goes there as well.  Her newest resource on her learning journey is Reality Based Leadership by Cy Wakeman.

It has long been a dream of Head Start to have an in-town Bennington location. By the fall of 2020, there will be Head Start classrooms there.  It makes perfect sense since many children live in the area. The location will ease transportation concerns for families, since many can walk.   The center is under construction as an addition to the Bennington Recreation Center.  This is a joint project with the Town of Bennington, United Counseling (parent agency of Head Start), Head Start and Early Head Start.  Recently, the Bennington Recreation Center has become associated with the Berkshire County Family YMCA.

The new in-town Bennington Head Start space will feature a multipurpose room, a community café, a new entrance with a lobby and elevator.  There will be upgrades to parking and sprinkler systems.

This is all thanks to the vision of Betsy Rathbun Gunn.  There are always many details in any project, and Betsy has made a concerted effort to keep the community and the project partners well informed. Of course being Betsy, she has already envisioned the next phase.


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