New Head Start Grant, A New Model

From PSESD.com (August 1, 2016)
Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) is very pleased to share that we were recently awarded a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF) grant to provide Head Start and Early Head Start services in our communities for the next five years.

As a Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) program serving King and Pierce Counties for five decades, PSESD welcomes this opportunity to renew its commitment to early learning services, re-focus the program’s experience and expertise, and apply lessons learned to ensure that high quality HS and EHS services are measurably effective and meet the diverse needs of families with low incomes in communities across the Puget Sound region.

Prior to July 1, 2016 PSESD operated HS, EHS, and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) state preschool programs for more than 5,000 children from low-income families in King and Pierce Counties through four early learning grants (see Figure 1).

IMAGE New Head Start Grant Figure 1In 2008 Congress required the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—the federal agency that administers the Office of Head Start—to establish the Designation Renewal System (DRS). DRS was designed to ensure that Head Start and Early Head Start agencies deliver high-quality and comprehensive services to the children and families they serve, through increased accountability and definitive five-year grant periods for all Head Start service awards.

Re-competition for existing grantees is one process used in DRS. In re-competition, the opportunity to provide Head Start services in that particular service area is made available to any interested agency through competitive application in response to a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).

As a result of DRS, PSESD’s longstanding HS/EHS grant serving 1,944 children in Pierce and King Counties ended on June 30, 2016. PSESD first learned of our DRS status in June 2014. Since that time, we have been in communication with all of our subcontractors providing direct service, to let them know our funding would end and we would need to re-compete for future funding. In October 2015, the FOA was released announcing the new grant opportunity to all current and potential Head Start and Early Head Start providers in the PSESD service area (all of King and Pierce Counties, excluding the City of Seattle and Head Start preschool services in the City of Tacoma).

The FOA identified new priorities from the Office of Head Start to increase the length of program days and the number of days per year for Head Start programs that have typically provided approximately 448 hours of class time per year. We utilized this information and input from our parent-led governing body, community stakeholders, sub-contractors and our Community Assessment to design our approach to offer HS/EHS in three regions of a two-county service area: Northeast King County, South King County, and Pierce County.  Our programmatic priorities focused on enhancing service models and improving school readiness rates across the region by prioritizing these areas:

  • High Impact: More full-day and higher intensity part-day HS models. This included implementing more 6-hour programs and extending all Head Start programs from 120 days per year to 170 days or more per year.
  • Starting Early: More EHS slots to increase access to multiple years of high quality early learning.
  • Highly Qualified Staff: More resources to increase qualifications and training of staff, especially teachers and home-visitors.
  • Child Outcome Focused: Focus on closing the opportunity gap; meet the needs of a diverse population and those with special needs.

IMAGE New Head Start Grant Figure 2Targeting these priorities did have an impact on capacities for services across the region as you can see from Figure 2.

On April 18, 2016, PSESD learned that we had a successful application; however, we would not receive the full funding of $20,182,253 that our grant application proposed. On May 31, 2016, PSESD received notification that the Office of Head Start confirmed our new grant was funded at the level of $18,068,902 per year for 5 years, serving a total of 1,545 EHS and HS slots. This is 399 less slots than we had in our previous grant.

The need for services is great across PSESD’s two-county service area, where about 40% of the state’s entire K-12 population resides, along with 34% of the state’s children from low-income families. Approximately 55% of South King County students, 47% of Pierce County students, and 15% of Northeast King County students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. The large population of low-income families in the service area experience lower school readiness and achievement rates compared to their middle- and upper-income peers. Despite this need, we were faced with the very difficult process of determining how we would allocate these new slots across our region.

There were two major factors used to determine how and where slots would be allocated based on this new grant funding level and requirements. The first and most heavily weighted was the data from our most recent Community Needs assessment (45 CFR 1305.3) published in 2014, and the relative levels of needs within different geographical areas within the entire Puget Sound ESD region. This data allowed us to systematically look at the needs within each community alongside the Office of Head Start (OHS) defined priorities in the new model to determine where slots would be allocated with the new grant. The second factor was information gathered through our Risk Assessment tool, a compilation of monitoring data collected from all PSESD Early Learning sites and centers.

On June 2, PSESD notified our subcontractors of our successful application and the award amount, as well as the next steps in the communication regarding slot allocation. Individual subcontractors received notification of their status and slot allocation on June 6, 2016. Specifics of the new grant was then communicated to stakeholders over the next several days, including the following information:

  • $14,962,245 to serve 1344 Head Start (HS) children
  • $3,106,657 to serve 201 Early Head Start (EHS) children and/or pregnant women
  • There are 3 subcontractors that PSESD is no longer contracting with in the new grant.
  • 6 subcontractors will have a total of 16 classrooms providing 6+ hour days to accommodate prioritized model changes
  • Homebased EHS slots will not be offered through PSESD in the Highline School District area, as these services will be provided by a different grantee as of 7/1/16

Without a doubt, the new grant has impacted many longstanding PSESD subcontractors, and in turn children, families and communities. Even within PSESD, staff positions will potentially be eliminated as a result of this new grant and funding level. And yet as we experience these changes in the region, it is important to remember that there was another successful grantee during this competitive process that is bringing many more Early Head Start slots to children and families, further expanding early learning opportunities in Puget Sound and reducing the overall impact.

Throughout this difficult process, PSESD was committed to transparency in our communication with subcontractors, parents, community partners and all of our stakeholders about the possible outcomes and potential impacts on our early learning models. Through regular communication, special public meetings, and surveys we were able to incorporate community and stakeholder input to make our application competitive, and—more importantly—one that re-envisioned our early learning programs throughout the region to better prepare children and their families to be ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

Looking ahead to the shifts happening in early learning in our region, our state and around the nation, we are in a time of change. In addition to these funding changes, we anticipate the release of new/revised Head Start regulations by the end of the summer. We also look forward to continued expansion of ECEAP services over the next several years in our State (Senate Bill 5904, RCW 43.215). Nonetheless, these changes to Head Start have come with a price and the impact and challenges of these changes are being felt by children, families and staff across our region, and the nation.

In the 51 years of the program, Head Start’s mission has always been to prepare children for kindergarten. At PSESD we know that we do this by collaborating with community partners, involving parents in program governance, and ensuring the families we serve receive high-quality comprehensive services. PSESD is committed to taking what we have learned from this experience from all perspectives—families, districts, community members and other partners—and using these lessons learned to move forward to better serve the children and families in our region.


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June 2016 edition of the
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June 2016 Connector newsletter

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This year, the PSESD Early Learning Program has been working to transform our annual self-assessment into a process that includes 1) ongoing learning and continuous improvement and 2) a year-end review of our strengths and challenges, with an opportunity to brainstorm with families and staff around ways to improve. On June 9, we would like to come together with families and staff to look at key themes we’ve identified from our self-assessment data from this year. The purpose of this Self-Assessment event is to analyze and discuss our self-assessment results in order for staff and parents to make recommendations about how we should move forward to improve our Early Learning program.  We appreciate your input on a range of our Early Learning and School Readiness Priorities, including attendance, healthy habits, teaching and curriculum, and enrolling priority populations.  We will also use this opportunity to request your input about how we should allocate resources across our Early Learning priority areas.

For more information and to register, see the Self-Assessment webpage.