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Mel Gravely

The Secret to Head Start Success – Part 2 (Performance Standards)

With so people served in so many ways by Head Start, there are literally millions of phenomenal people that have benefited from the continuously improving Head Start performance standards.

Take for example, Angel Tavares, Mayor of Providence Rhode Island, who still remembers graduating from a Head Start program in South Providence, and who still has the small scroll he was presented with that day to prove it. The reaches of Head Start manifested to Angel at Harvard of all places. There he learned his roommate from Poughkeepsie, New York also attended Head Start.

He says, “My roommate joked, ‘There must be something about that program!’” We know there is. Now, as Mayor of Providence Rhode Island, Angel Tavares believes 1/3 of eligible children enrolled in Providence Rhode Island Head Start programs is simply not enough when there are so many more children, families, and communities that can benefit from Head Start. As Mayor, Tavares, has made it a priority of his office to increase that percentage because it’s “good but it’s not good enough.”

Good, but not good enough means there’s room for improvement. I have to agree with Mayor Tavares, our performance standards are good, but as generations change, the struggles facing low-income families and communities, and of course state and federal administrations change, so too must Head Start improve, progress and develop. That’s why we’re here. Performance standards have been an important secret to the success of Head Start. And since the Obama Administration took office, Head Start has been charged with enhancing the quality of classroom instruction.

● What do performance standards mean at your Head Start facility?
● What does it mean to enhance performance standards at your facility?

“A renewed era of innovation, improvement and integrity in Head Start is here,”. “Helping all children realize their dreams and potential will help us build tomorrow’s workforce, strengthen our economy, and fulfill America’s promise,” Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

In September 2010, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it’s nationwide initiatives to enhance performance standards. They include:
● Training and technical assistance centers will support Head Start programs
PURPOSE: To bring best practices into Head Start classrooms around the country, promoting continuous improvement and innovation at the ground level.
● Expert mentors/coaches in a number of Head Start programs across the country
PURPOSE: To provide on-the-ground training to teachers and program directors, to help them improve their classrooms.
● 10 exceptional local Head Start programs as Centers of Excellence
PURPOSE: To provide peer-to-peer technical assistance.

The Centers of Excellence

Much of this boils down to improving school readiness which is a long term measure of success for Head Start programs nationwide. In “Improving School Readiness and Promoting Long Term Success,” released by the Department of Health and Human Services, increasing every head start child’s exposure to effective appropriate learning experiences both in the program and at home,” is the first way performance standards can be improved.

Within the Head Start program, this means that teachers provide age-appropriate, classroom activities that provide children with meaningful experiences focused on specific learning objectives.

Changes to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, include:
● Classroom activities children engage in everyday, will place an increased emphasis on foundational literacy, math, and science skills
● Promoting healthy social emotional and physical development in Head Start children.

At home, it means that Head Start program’s staff and administrators work in collaboratively with families to help them best understand how to support and reinforce the learning that goes on during a typical Head Start day.

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