For Scot Anderson, it's time to move on to something new.
After nearly 30 years as director of the Head Start program in Missoula, Anderson is stepping down at the end of June to make room for a new leader.
It will benefit the organization, be a "breath of fresh air" and bring new perspectives, he said.
Head Start is a federally funded preschool program for low-income families with children ages 3 to 5. It provides comprehensive services for kids to help get them ready for public school through either a part-day, full-day or home-based program.
It also offers health screenings for children, including physicals, and dental, eye and ear checkups. And Head Start works with families to help establish a stable home life - and provides nutritional education and social services for families, if needed.
"You couldn't find a better program to get kids ready for school and life," Anderson said.
For the last year and a half, Anderson has also been consulting with the Community Development Institute in Denver as a site manager for other Head Start programs around the nation. After stepping down, he will begin working out of his Missoula home as a site manager for the company.
He will continue to work with other Head Start programs and enjoy some periodic traveling.
"I'll miss all the people I've met - the parents, staff and community members," Anderson said. "(But) I expect to be able to come back and visit."
Anderson started work as Missoula's Head Start director in 1978 and has watched it change and grow.
Before the program moved into the old Whittier School, it was spread out all over town.
The staff traveled all over as well, Anderson said.
They moved into Whittier in 1985, rebuilt the playground for younger kids, added a kitchen, and used all the classrooms.
In the early years, there was plenty of funding for the program, allowing it to expand and serve more children. There were 168 kids in 1978; today there are 354.
The program started off only in Missoula and then "expanded outward like watching a stone drop in a pond and watching the ripples spread out," Anderson said. It now serves five counties.
There has also been an increase in staff and changes in the services provided over the years.
During the early days, there were only part-day classes or day care available. There were no home-based services until around 1980.
The program's federal funding was increasing each year until 2002. Since then, it has received a $2.5 million grant annually. Because of this, the staff has had to cut back in some areas, and the kids and families aren't being served as well as he'd like, Anderson said.
Trying to work with the same funding each year as the cost of living goes up has been the greatest hurdle, he said. "We wish we had more funding so we could serve more kids."
Ken Piippo, the new program director, knows the future holds many challenges. But Head Start has a quality professional staff that is committed to serving the needs of the kids, he said.
A lot of the credit for the program's success goes to Anderson, Piippo said. "He's Mr. Head Start."
"As a member of the board, I will miss problem-solving issues with Scot," said Sally Woodruff, Head Start's board president.
Anderson has been planning his retirement for the last six months, but says he has some melancholy days.
"I have kind of a mixed feeling, I guess, about leaving after all of this time," he said. "But Ken will be a great director for the program."
There will be a community gathering at Whittier School from 2 to 4 p.m. on June 26 to say goodbye to Anderson. Everyone is welcome.
Amy Faxon is a newsroom intern for the Missoulian. She is a journalism student at the University of Montana.