CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — West Virginia holds a rather high ranking in the nation for its early education systems, yet with a lower standing in K-12 and secondary education, it’s fair to ask about what makes this program so successful.

A recent study shows that West Virginia currently sits eleventh in the nation in early education systems. 12 News spoke with Lori Milam, Executive Director of the West Virginia Head Start Association (WVHSA), on some of the qualities of the organization that lead to its success.

“We do collaborate with every county in the state with board of educations, except one county which is Pendleton. By collaborating, we’re able to serve children in schools, in our stand-alone centers and childcare facilities. By all of us blending together, we’re making sure all these students are served. Where Head Start goes a little but beyond that, is we really, truly invest in the families,” said Milam.

The West Virginia Head Start Association has 400 locations throughout the state and has conducted 43,258 home visits and served 520 homeless families and 150 pregnant women with its Early Head Start program. Through its provided federal funding the WVHSA was also able to help assist its employees obtain degrees in early education.

Though with all of the support it provides for its students, Head Start associations nationwide are running into the same problem with finding and keeping employees.

“The one thing we’re really focusing on is trying to get that increase for our staff. We employ 2,790 staff through Head Start and Early Head Start in West Virginia. The pay disparities between what they make compared to Board of Education is just a different world. We’re trying to look at different ways nationally of how we can increase that for them doing the same work,” said Milam.

Directors of Head Start associations nationwide will be heading to Washington D.C. next week to discuss pay issues and the importance of the program.

“We have longevity of forty, fifty-plus years with our staff. Even though they do not make nearly what they should make, they believe in Head Start and they stay for the long haul. They love what we do, they love that they can provide to children and families, so they are so invested in Head Start, it’s just amazing,” said Milam.