Rathbun-Gunn Powerhouse in Local Early Education Retires

Rathbun-Gunn Powerhouse in Local Early Education Retires

Rathbun-Gunn Powerhouse in Local Early Education Retires

BENNINGTON — Betsy Rathbun-Gunn, a stalwart in early childhood education, is retiring after a distinguished career spanning several decades. Her journey began when she moved from New Jersey to attend Bennington College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Initially planning a short stay, Rathbun-Gunn ended up dedicating over 40 years to the Vermont community.

Her career took off when Sally Sugarman, a professor at Bennington College, hired her to teach at the Bennington College Early Childhood Center. Rathbun-Gunn initiated the first private kindergarten program in the county, a pioneering effort at the time. Her tenure at the college was marked by numerous contributions to early childhood education.

In the late ’80s, Rathbun-Gunn transitioned to United Counseling Service (UCS), where she oversaw the Head Start and Early Childhood Services programs. She served as the director of Early Childhood Services for more than 30 years, shaping the lives of countless children and families.

After assisting in the transition to a new director and completing final projects, Rathbun-Gunn is stepping down. Her colleagues celebrated her retirement with a party at the Spring Center, a facility she played a significant role in designing. The Spring Center, a $4.8 million extension to the Bennington Recreation Center, opened in 2021 and serves as the latest location for the Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

In 2023, Rathbun-Gunn was honored with the Distinguished Service award from the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children. This accolade recognized her excellence and advocacy in early childhood education, particularly her leadership in Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Rebecca Bishop Ware, a 26-year veteran of the UCS Head Start/Early Head Start program, has succeeded Rathbun-Gunn as the new Director of Early Childhood Services. Head Start, a federal program initiated in 1965, serves children aged three to five, while Early Head Start caters to children from six weeks to three years old. These programs are provided at no cost to eligible families.

Rathbun-Gunn’s tenure saw significant expansion and relocation of the Head Start program. She detailed the numerous changes and additions, emphasizing the continuous growth of the program. One notable project was a mobile facility at Pownal Elementary School, established nearly 25 years ago through a grant. This facility is now set to be replaced, thanks to the support of local voters.

In June 2023, voters in Bennington, Shaftsbury, Pownal, and Woodford approved a long-term lease for property to build a new home for the program on the Pownal Elementary School campus. A recent federal review of the local Head Start program yielded positive results, with the program being 100 percent compliant, a distinction achieved by only about 10 percent of programs nationwide.

Rathbun-Gunn passionately advocates for early childhood education, emphasizing the rapid brain development that occurs in the first five years of life. She believes in preparing children for kindergarten by ensuring they develop at the right pace. Family involvement is a cornerstone of Head Start, with parents playing a crucial role in program development and grant submissions.

One of Rathbun-Gunn’s greatest joys has been witnessing parents become more involved in their communities, often running for school board seats or other elected offices. The program supports families holistically, assisting with housing, nutrition, employment, and special needs.

Rathbun-Gunn’s educational journey continued with a master’s degree from the University of Albany and further studies at the Snelling Leadership Institute and UCLA. She values professional development and believes in the importance of continuous learning.

Reflecting on her career, Rathbun-Gunn expressed gratitude to everyone she worked with, from towns and schools to UCS. She praised their dedication to children, families, and the community.

Now residing in Manchester, Rathbun-Gunn has served on the Sandgate School Board and the Sandgate Internet Committee. In retirement, she plans to mentor, coach, and spend time with her grandchildren. She also looks forward to gardening, scuba diving, and skiing.

As she bids farewell to her role, Rathbun-Gunn hopes to remain connected to the Spring Center and the community she has served so passionately.

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