Tiny voices shouting, “Dr. Shane!” echo throughout the halls as Shane Rayburn pops into classrooms to give his usual morning greeting.
Only seven days into his job as director of the Butler Center in Gainesville, Rayburn is soaking up all of the delight that comes with serving families and children through the programs: Hall County Head Start, Early Head Start and Georgia’s Pre-K Program.
“I have conveyed to these teachers that I want to know you,” Rayburn said. “I want to know your kids. I want to know the parents in this building. Those relationships, those high-fives, I can’t not do that part. The smiles and the joy, that keeps me going.”
Rayburn has spent the past 20 years in jobs related to education and families.
Early into his career, Rayburn saw the importance of helping children get a head start on education.
His first job in the field entailed working as a teacher in a high school special education class. He was only 21 at the time, and many of the students would stay in the class until they turned 22.
“They were lacking so many skills at that point,” Rayburn said. “That’s what really pushed me toward early childhood education. We needed to do something way before they hit high school.”
Rayburn went on to earn his master’s in early childhood education and doctorate in language education.
When the opportunity opened up at Butler, Rayburn said he was excited to explore the new and exciting territory of molding young minds at such a crucial time in their lives.
Head Start helps 4-year-olds get a jumpstart on education.
“In some cases that’s almost too late,” Rayburn said. “The brain development that happens from 0 to 3 years is huge. We have the Early Head Start portion for that.”
In addition to equipping children with the social and academic skills they need before entering kindergarten, Butler assists parents.
Through the center’s five family partners, the program staff and families build ongoing relationships. The family partners help the parents with obtaining jobs, seeking housing stability, advancing their education and obtaining medical care.
Next year Rayburn plans to host GED classes for the community.
“We do get a great glimpse into what families need and what they desire,” Rayburn said. “It requires us to step back and be willing to see that. My position here is to serve in a greater capacity than I have in the past.”
A rack full of different types of hats sits in Rayburn’s office. It acts as a physical metaphor for his multifaceted role at Butler.
From 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Rayburn devotes most of his energy toward the children, all of which are pre-kindergarten age and under.
On one occasion he may be comforting a distressed child, and on another he could be reading a story to a classroom.
Once the children leave, he writes up a reflection message to send to the teachers, acknowledging and recognizing the things they did well that day.
“I think that my role here is to be their cheerleader and their support,” Rayburn said. “Even our teachers, they live lives where things happen and need to sit with somebody and be heard.”
At the end of the workday, he dives into the federal portion of his job — filling out masses of paperwork.
The center is bound by federal guidelines and federal money, which Rayburn said can at times offer a challenge.
Hall County Head Start, Early Head Start and Georgia’s Pre-K Program are all operated by the private nonprofit Community Action Agency, Ninth District Opportunity, Inc.
Rayburn wants the community to know that although these are government-funded programs, the staff genuinely cares about the children and parents they serve.
“In the community there’s a wide range of responses to government agencies, and Head Start, Early Head Start and what we represent is sometimes misconstrued,” Rayburn said. “We really are here to help kids and parents.”
Coming into his new role, Rayburn has brought a vision to make Butler better.
His main goal is to strengthen the center’s presence in Hall County.
He plans to do that by putting more energy into updating its website and social media, so people can see the progress of the center’s efforts.
“I think the wider community needs to know that Butler is the largest center in the Ninth District Opportunity group,” Rayburn said. “There's about 200 kids in our building, then we have six other locations within the Hall County public school system.”
Rayburn encourages community members to visit Butler and see the services it has to offer.
“We are here,” he said. “We are Butler. Our doors are open to any partnerships and anybody that wants a glimpse at what we do.”
The Butler Center is located at 1300 Athens St. in Gainesville, across from the District 2 Health Department. For more information contact 770-532-8182 or visit hallcountyheadstart.weebly.com.